Monday, April 9, 2007

Recommended Album of the Week: Blonde Redhead - 23

Grade: 82.0%
Official Score: 83.6%

What the Others Think:
Pitchfork Score: 7.0
Tiny Mix Tapes Score: 3 out of 5
Coke Machine Glow Score:

I remember my first time hearing Blonde Redhead's music. I was sitting in the grass at a nearby amphitheater, patiently awaiting the band's whose names were printed on the ticket I had purchased: Red Hot Chili Peppers and Foo Fighters. It was the summer of 2000, and your's truly was only a month removed from high school. Not quite yet 18, not quite yet ready for college, and not quite ready to grow up. My music tastes were on the verge of shifting towards the tastes I have today, yet I was not quite ready to dismiss the past and empty my CD collection of the bands that regularly graced the small screen and the small town radio stations I listened to religiously each and every night.

So there I was, sitting on the lawn with some friends, waiting to get in contact with other friends when I couldn't help but notice the noise the opening band was making. I stood up to get a look. From the distance I could make out three people, two men and a woman, that's it. But the noise. It was this Sonic Youth fan's dream come true. I filed the name of the band, Blonde Redhead, in the back of my mind, enjoyed the remainder of the show, and the rest is history.

As shocking is it may seem on the surface, the pairing of Blonde Redhead on a bill with two of alternative rock's biggest icons is nothing out of the ordinary given the band's history for their penchant of conflict and balance. Nearly everything about the band relies on one or the other, from the bands makeup (two Italian men and a Japanese woman), to their connections as people (singer/multi instrumentalist Kazu Makino is married to singer/guitarist Amadeo Pace, drummer Simone Pace is Amadeo's twin brother), their album titles (1997's Fake Can Be Just As Good, 1998's In an Expression of the Inexpressible), song titles ("Futurism Vs. Passeism", "Hated Because Of Great Qualities", and "Loved Despite Of Great Faults"), and even the name of the band itself, which suggests either a conflict or balance in hair color.

23, the latest release from Blonde Redhead, is no exception, only this time the conflict and balance is more in the album's tone and style than anything else. The album opens with the magnificent title track, a beautiful swirl of Kazu's gorgeous singing and yelping, Amadeo's best Loveless style guitar playing, and Simone's percise drumming. The song is the perfect foreshadow for what the listener can expect from the rest of the album, which is the marriage of Misery Is a Butterfly's lush production to the balanced instrumentation found on Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons. This is how Misery, would have sounded if it were more raw, and how Melody might have sounded if it had better production. Which isn't to say that fans of yore should start picketing for an Unwound reunion (we should all be doing that regardless), even the old fans get some love with tracks like "Dr. Strangeluv" and "Spring and By Summer Fall", songs that, at their core, would not sound terribly out of place on La Mia Vita Violenta and Fake Can Be Just As Good respectively.

The album's strongest point is its second half. "Silently" is a bouncy pop song, reminiscent of the 80s new wave that Blonde Redhead's initial influences rebelled against. "Publisher" is the perfect culmination of Misery and Melody, and like most of the best Blonde Redhead songs, regardless of what album, have Amadeo and Kazu both taking lead vocals. "Top Ranking", perhaps this reviewer's favorite song on the album, is as striking for its foray into Japanese electro-pop as it is for hearing Kazu's voice with little or no effects. The album's closer, the spacey "My Impure Hair" returns brings the album full circle with its shoegaze sound, and is also noteworthy for its use of acoustic guitar.

It is hard to believe that it has been over twelve years since Blonde Redhead released their first album, and that six albums later they are still pushing the envelope and making artistic, creative, and thoughtful music. 23 might not be the best Blonde Redhead album of the bunch, but it is still an exquisite piece of work that, if nothing else, does and excellent job of representing the band both then and now.

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