Blonde Redhead – 23 (4AD)
Seven years ago, Blonde Redhead made their transition from no-wave revisionists to more accessible art rockers with their album Melody Of Certain Damaged Lemons. I will confess to initially balking at this transition, pouting at the very idea and spitefully avoiding the album for several months before finally appreciating its quiet, melodic moments.
If you’ve made your own peace with that album, and if you’ve gone on to value the band’s continued shift towards genial arrangements on Misery Is A Butterfly, then you’ve adequately prepared yourself for their latest transition into dreampop territory. The evolution is entirely believable as 23 stands as not only Blonde Redhead’s most accessible album to date, but their best as well.
What makes it work so well is how comfortable they sound within this sub-genre: lush guitars swirls around the arrangements while vocalist Kazu Makino has found a perfect backdrop to place her ethereal voice. Elaborate electronic treatments find their place in every cut as well, managing to provide each song with added depth and trippy hypnotics.
Makino’s lyrics remain nearly indecipherable, occasionally finding some repetitive moments during the chorus to mumble your own phonetics to, while guitarist/vocalist Amedeo Pace finds himself fronting some of the album’s most memorable tracks.
His take on “Publisher” may be the album’s highlight: beginning with a slow Joy Division synthesizer/piano introduction before spinning faster into another whirl of guitars and building percussion. Amedeo examines a family’s inability to communicate with each other, hitting hard during the chorus (“Say what / You say / Say it like you can’t say it / To my face / And say what you know / What you once said”) while Makino briefly stops in with a little “Cat’s In The Cradle” philosophy (“Change your heart / Cause I’m already spoken for”).
Kazu’s highpoint comes with “Silently, which gets the nod for the “Most Likely To Be The First Single” award. She manages to channel both Debbie Harry and Lush’s Miki Berenyl simultaneously, while the Pace brothers create some approachable textures that have never been explored by the band before.
This is a polite way of saying that Blonde Redhead are starting to pursue a direction that may reward them with additional recognition. And before long-time Redhead hipsters dismiss this direction and decry the band’s blatant attempts at gaining a wider audience, they need to consider the source and recognize that the band’s curio is still firmly in place. This won’t be the album that breaks Blonde Redhead into the mainstream; this is the album that prepares the mainstream for them.
At its core, 23 remains an ambitious album that serves both as a career defining moment for the band and one that will provide them with years of new sonic strategies to consider.
• Blonde Redhead – “23” (192 kbps)
• Blonde Redhead – “Spring and By Summer Fall” (64 kbps)
• Blonde Redhead – “Dr. Strangeluv” (64 kbps)
Blonde Redhead – “23”
Remix “Signs Along the Path” or just download the individual instrumental and vocal tracks and goof around. Go nuts!