From the Shelf: Yokokimthurston – Yoko Ono, Kim Gordon & Thurston Moore

Yokokimthurston – Yoko Ono, Kim Gordon & Thurston Moore (Chimera., 2012)

A recurring feature where I pluck a record off my shelf and write about it, hoping eventually I’ll have a bank of writing for everything I own copies of!


It sounds like a fascinating meeting of the kinds on paper: Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore and Yoko Ono. All three have a rich history of making experimental, genre-pushing music, not to mention a distinct art sensibility. After all, before they turned to music, both Ono and Gordon were visual artists. The thing is, Yokokimthurston is an interesting listen and one that certainly pushes into the extremes, but it’s kind of a letdown at the same time.

When Sonic Youth disbanded in 2011, things between Gordon and Moore were at a low point; Moore was having an affair, Gordon was sick and by year’s end, they were divorced and the band was finished. But around the same time, the couple hooked up with Ono for a one-off project, Yokokimthurston.


I don’t really remember this record making a lot of waves at the time – I didn’t get around to it until this year, when I made an effort to poke around Ono’s discography – but I dunno, maybe I was too busy listening to Purity Ring or Mac Demarco to notice. Like I noted above, it sounds like an amazing idea and I’m still a little surprised it took so long for it to come together: Ono’s blistering Plastic Ono Band records (I’m thinking of her first one, the one opening with Lennon, Ono, Ringo and company just rocking the fuck out with “Why,” in particular) don’t just seem like an influence on Sonic Youth, but they make so much more sense when you listen to them in succession. Both are filled with raging guitar freakouts, but also really pushed the idea of what a rock band can do into the stratosphere: they’re arty, but not in a sterile, Roxy Music kinda way. It’s like comparing Emily Carr to Jean-Paul Riopelle.

And the thing about this record is that is does push the boundries and it has a distinct sense of experimentation. But it’s also less raucous and bombastic than either of their previous records would suggest their collaboration should sound. The music here is minimal: guitars scrape and clang, voices are drenched in reverb and recite headlines or small rhymes. Ono moans, shouts and leads chants; Moore and Gordon’s musicianship is limited to scraping up and down guitar strings, playing the headstock and shouting.


True, when approached with an open mind, there is some cool stuff here. For example, the guitars on “Mirror Mirror” sound like an autoharp; when combined with the hushed, half-moaned/half-spoken vocals, give the music an otherworldly, surreal quality. It sounds like the cover looks: a swirl of colour, indistinct and compelling, something to ponder and get lost inside. There are other interesting moments: the guitar feedback drone and Ono vocalizing on “Let’s Get There,” the skittering guitar fragments of “I Missed You Listening.”


At the same time, I kept trying not to compare it to their back catalogues. Forget hard-driving rock; the tunes here are like fragments and pieces of their most experimental moments, all pieced together. There aren’t any structures, themes or motifs. It’s like all the cool, freeform parts of “Expressway To Yr Skull” are mixed with the late-60s experimentation of songs like “Touch Me.” It’s more art-informed than anything Ono’s done in years, too.

I’m not sure it’s something I would recommend to anyone, not even to those who like Sonic Youth or Ono: this isn’t as accessible, let alone as structured, as stuff like Double Fantasy or Rather Ripped are. It kinda reminds me of the last Naked City record, the one where they stopped screaming and instead recorded their amps humming and feeding back: it’s less music than art, and if you don’t think that’s a pretentious statement, than you might dig it. Otherwise, maybe just like stick to “Reena.”


Rating: 3.5/5




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