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What I’m listening to this week: Blonde Redhead

August 26, 2009

23 – 2007

Researching this album, it was somewhat of a surprise for me that Blonde Redhead has been around for more than a decade as a band and that 23 is their seventh studio album.  I first listened to 23 ahead of the 2007 ACL festival where Blonde Redhead was going to perform, and I had every intention of seeing them there.  Instead, in what became one of the more unpleasant memories of the festival (the unfortunate propane tank explosion), we were actually stuck outside the gates in the direct September sunlight while the festival crew worked to contain the chaos inside.  Off in the distance, we could hear Blonde Redhead’s set.  They were performing the song “23”, and I remember thinking about how fresh and different it seemed compared to the litany of guitar rock the festival usually offers.

That freshness is part of why I was surprised to find out that it was their seventh album; it’s rare to hear a band go the way of experimental dream pop 12 years into their career, and if they do, they might not pull it off so convincingly, but Blonde Redhead dive in full force right away.  “23” is the album opener, and despite the memories of the oppressive Texas heat and dust it recalls, it’s an appropriately enticing introduction to the style of the whole album.  It’s a wall of experimental electronic noise, dreamy guitars, and Kazu Makino’s vocals are quietly full of melancholy tension, and layered with her own background vocals for extra expressive affect.  The next song, “Dr. Strangeluv”, sounds like Radiohead circa OK Computer meets The Cure; a mix of a sparkly ethereal atmosphere with a dose of measured electro-beats.  The third track, “The Dress”, finds the band darkening significantly.  It’s brooding with a enigmatic air, including looped gasping and haunting vocals and lyrics.  It’s easily the most compelling song on the album.

“SW” sounds like it might belong on a different album entirely, partially because it’s a male vocalist instead of Makino’s delicate femininity, but also because it has a semblance of straight forward electric guitars and a Beatles-esque brass band bridge.  “SW” segues into the similar sounding “Spring And By Summer Fall”, and then later “Publisher” picks up on this vibe as well, replacing the electric guitars with sparse synth beats that eventually become more lush in the chorus.  Of all the songs on 23, “Publisher” would be the one that most makes you think of other bands.  Second to last track “Top Ranking” is the best of the last half of the album.  It sounds like it was recorded in a robot fantasy land and is almost effervescent compared to the dramatic qualities of the first several songs, and the very last track, “My Impure Hair”, closes the album on a mysterious sounding note, using not-yet-heard acoustic guitars and swirling synths behind the revealing lyrics.

23 is fascinating; the album doesn’t unfold itself for you and it takes several listens to become acquainted with all that it has to offer.  The last half isn’t quite as strong as the first, but that’s only because the first tracks are so bracing.  23 sounds more “new” than many albums to come out in 2007, plus it’s also more daring.  Blonde Redhead are obviously a band that continues to push their own boundaries, and you have to respect the fact that they can do it to such success.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Naomi permalink
    August 26, 2009 6:37 pm

    I LOVE Blonde Redhead!! Yay for doing a review!

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