Review: Body/Head – The Switch
National Music Reviews
Body/Head = Earth + Keiji Haino
Five years after their stunning debut, Coming Apart, Body/Head return with their second studio release, The Switch. Consisting of avant-guitarist Bill Nace and musician-artist-designer extraordinaire Kim Gordon, the pure namesake of the duo offers enough for experimental rock fans to salivate over. Thankfully, they back this promise up with a concise, torrential album that revels in demonic, scrawling guitar music. Far from just an interesting listen, The Switch is an immersive psychedelic record that acts less as a supplement to drugs as it does a complete replacement for them.
From the opening, Gordon and Nace deny any easy path through their music. “Last Time” builds itself around sneaking, directionless guitar lines. It’s a perfectly woozy atmosphere, especially as the layers build and Gordon begins intoning the powers of the wind. In moments like these, Body/Head find closest kinship in the stoner and drone metal from the American Southwest. To their benefit, though, the duo replace the bludgeoning riffs and campy drug-worship with music that actually feels like driving blind through the impenetrably dark desert.
Where Coming Apart offered a lengthy excursion through repetitive patterns, spoken-word poetry and noisy guitar leads, The Switch is a much more abstract, totalizing affair. Throughout this album, there’s a tense hesitation to the music. Not so much on the part of the performers, but on their gear and listeners’ speaker playback. It’s as if there’s so much volume, distortion and layering that it feels like the audio is petering out as it comes. Of course, this is all intentional, as there are moments where gigantic sound swells in and fills the entire room.
After “In the Dark Room,” a somewhat aimless instrumental excursion, Body/Head delve into two 10-minute giants that bring the album to a triumphant close. On the surface, “Change My Brain” is one of the more accessible cuts here. Its (somewhat) steady pulse and repeating harmonies are a huge change of pace from the disjointed sequencing elsewhere, and the interplay feels more planned. The track does, however, eternally repeat this sequence until it becomes a swirling mess. In the last minute, all the distortion falls away, leaving only two clean-toned guitars that signal how delicately performed the music was underneath the monstrous effects.
Atop all of this chaos is Gordon’s voice, which has only grown in potency as time goes on. The dreamy, spiritual quality that she accessed on tracks like “Beauty Lies in the Eye” or “Schizophrenia” is still here, but it’s imbued with a rasping, creaking undertone that makes it sound all the more transcendent. In contrast to the direct messages on Coming Apart, her delivery is delirious and skirts meaning. The phrases are more sparse, the lyrics more confounding, and the multi-tracking and studio treatment more cacophonous. Though her vocalizations only seldom appear, the moments where they do are some of the most moving and mesmerizing.
While the Sonic Youth diehard in me wants to chalk all the brilliance up to Gordon’s mind, the reality is that The Switch is a deeply democratic, collaborative work. In every moment, the winding guitars wrap around each other until distinction becomes impossible. Not only are Nace and Gordon perfectly in sync, but there are a litany of moments where it’s shocking that this is the work of only two players. Where other rock musicians become more and more complacent as they age, the duo of Body/Head seem to be doing the opposite. The Switch is an insular world of dissonance and confusion, one that could only have been made by two well-worn artists whose creativity knows no bounds. –Connor Lockie