- The Washington Times - Monday, April 9, 2007

Blonde Redhead 23 4AD

Blonde Redhead’s new album arrives in April like a melancholy rain. The New York City-based trio strikes a pleasingly dissonant note, matching downbeat melodies with surprising rhythmic velocity. The mood is one of penitence and confession, with rueful, guilty lyrics that singer Kazu Makino weaves into an ambient hairshirt.

The music here is not danceable, but neither does it suggest inertia. The lyrics, too, are often oddly sung, without a rigid sense of stanza. Instead, words lap up and down the melody, leaving the listener to pick up the threads of story and meaning. Even without a lyric sheet, the tensions and anguish that characterize Blonde Redhead’s seventh full-length album are hard to miss.

Miss Makino’s voice is, to put it plainly, a thing of wonder — haunting, lighter than air and full of sonic contradictions. Her gentle but ominous whisper comes across best on the title track, “23,” in which Miss Makino duels with Amedeo Pace’s growling guitar.

On “Silently,” the gently bopping rhythm guitar and precise drumming (by Mr. Pace’s twin brother Simone Pace) create a sugary backdrop against which Miss Makino spins an empathic, rueful lament: “I realize now you’re not to be blamed my love/You didn’t choose your name my love/You never crossed the seven seas.”

At their best, as on the track “Dr. Strangeluv,” Blonde Redhead mixes eerie synthesizer parts with hard-edged guitar and soaring, mystical vocal lines into a transporting aural experience.

“The Dress” is another exceptional number, pairing a haunting minor key melody with an insistent, ringing guitar part occasionally reminiscent of the twitter of a harp. Miss Makino plaintively explores the emotional devastation wrought by misplaced trust, singing, ” I won’t count the scars again/I love you less now that I know you.”

A few tracks, “Spring and by Summer Fall,” “SW” and “Publisher” feature Amedeo Pace on lead vocals. His voice is serviceable, but suffers by comparison to Miss Makino’s cool, creepy sound. Of these, “SW” is the most compelling, with rich orchestration featuring bells, backing vocals and even a horn interlude that feels like a Pro Tools version of The Magical Mystery Tour brass.

“Spring and by Summer Fall” is fierce, with a howling wind tunnel effect playing around a jagged guitar riff, but the overall effect is uninspired thanks to Mr. Pace’s bland vocal delivery.

Blonde Redhead has a not entirely deserved reputation as an art-rock band. Miss Makino did co-found the band in 1993 while studying art in New York City. Their first albums were produced by Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley. Their songs are rarely catchy, and instead rely on layered instrumentation and mood. On “23,” they are more accessible than ever, but the tracks here will still find more play on post-breakup mixes for the inconsolable than on workout playlists.

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