A buswoman’s holiday for noise-rock scenesters — most prominently Sonic Youth bassist/singer Kim Gordon (playing guitar) and ex-Pussy Galore guitarist/singer Julia Cafritz — Free Kitten (originally just Kitten) gussies up its thinly sliced wryness with ephemeral R&B and hip-hop flourishes, neither of which lend the vaguest degree of soulfulness to the proceedings. That studied coolness goes hand-in-hand with a perspective so dependent on transitory pop culture references and in-jokes that the songs are in danger of fresh-date expiration by the time they reach the market.
Call Now, recorded alone by Gordon and Cafritz, appropriates quite a bit from B-boy culture — including a passel of incredibly pretentious sleeve photos casting the duo as hip-hop fashion plates — but it’s hard to concede much street cred to a disc that grants “stylist” principal status, credit-wise. Then again, with songs as half-baked as “Platinumb” and “Skinny Butt,” perhaps deflecting some of the attention from the audio portion of the program is a good idea. Nice Ass holds together a bit more coherently, thanks in part to the presence of fellow travelers Mark Ibold (Pavement; bass) and Yoshimi P-Wee (Boredoms; drums and trumpet). It also helps that the band has discovered its roots don’t lead back to the boogie-down Bronx. “Harvest Spoon,” carried by Cafritz’s raspy shout, slams along with one-chord authority, while slightly more fractured tracks (“What’s Fair” and the mumbled-but-explicit “Revlon Liberation Orchestra”) provide some worthwhile gray matter calisthenics. Still, too many of the album’s fifteen tracks — most egregiously “Proper Band” and “Greener Pastures” — are steeped in the sort of self-glorifying silliness that killed arena rock the first time around. Narcissism is most assuredly not go.