Kim Gordon is a rapper now

The curtain rises on Kim Gordon’s disorienting new solo album with our protagonist reciting her packing list — “travel shampoo, conditioner, eyeliner, dental floss” — over a beat seemingly sourced from the category-three gales of SoundCloud, her verses punctuated by that incessant bling-bling-bling that cars make when you leave the keys in the ignition. Body lotion? Check. Laptop cord? Check. Eventually, Gordon lands on the song’s titular line: “Bye-bye.” Where’s she going? In isolation, the song evokes escape. But as an album starter, “Bye Bye” makes Gordon sound like she’s entering an entirely new zone of expression.

Is that zone rap music? Depends on how you find your way in. Roll up to the party as a fan of Sonic Youth — the era-defining noisenik unit that Gordon co-founded in 1981 — and this new album, “The Collective,” will stand proud and mighty next to the likes of Leonard Cohen’s “I’m Your Man,” Lou Reed’s “Lulu” and other deep-career declarations of ungovernability from rock-n-roll’s big brains. But ultimately, “The Collective” is something very different: Gordon is deploying her talk-sigh poetry and existential guitar shred over trap beats by Justin Raisen, a young producer who told the New York Times he initially considered floating the beat for “Bye Bye” to Playboi Carti, the foremost expressionist in today’s rapscape.

So let’s try to be rap listeners and imagine that this is an album made by some 70-year-old we’ve never heard of. Soft-delete Gordon’s 1990 duet with Chuck D on Sonic Youth’s “Kool Thing” from your head and remember that, like so many 21st-century rappers working in Carti’s aesthetic gravitation, Gordon loves repetition and negative space. That love supercharges her lyrics with artful inexactitude, the ambiguity making each song feel even bigger than Raisen’s bumptiousness already does. Over the fried boom-bap of “I Don’t Miss My Mind,” Gordon describes a “liquid kiss that don’t exist” and a “power flower greener than green.” When she asks “Know what I mean?” somehow, you totally will.

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Even the slightest modulations to her cryptic deadpan can turn her lyrics inside out. And that’s rap stuff all the way. “Shelf Warmer,” a tick-tocking song about gift shop tchotchkes, sounds like it’s about sex, while another song, “Psychedelic Orgasm,” does not. During “Dream Dollar,” Gordon delivers the refrain — “Cement the brand” — with a wink of contempt that reminds us exactly who’s holding the microphone. This album is an act of legacy mutation. The idea is to obliterate the brand. Unless, for a hero of the counterculture like Gordon, obliterating the brand is, in fact, the brand.

All these little riddles funnel into the big one: In rap music, words perpetually become sounds in ways that can defy their meanings. Back in 1998, the same year that Sonic Youth dropped “A Thousand Leaves,” the great critic Kodwo Eshun described rap music as an “omni-genre,” a mode of music-making in which any sound could be sampled, and by extension, over which anything could be said — by which anything could be meant. So yeah, maybe Kim Gordon is a rapper now. Or maybe everything is rap music. Or maybe rap music is everything.

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