Blonde Redhead | 23 (4AD)

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Makino sings of a love lost, but it appears that she is the dump-er rather than the dump-ee.

 

Rarely is an artist able to shift effortlessly between styles, whether it be musicians, painters, or even writers. When you do find that rare breed that can transcend the boundaries of genre, you really need to pay attention to what that artist has to say. The most recent addition to this super-discriminatory club is Blonde Redhead. Once the darlings of the indie/sonic/alt rock scene, their newest album continues their trend toward more musically textured and layered compositions that started with their 2003 release Misery Is a Butterfly.

"Melancholy" would be the first word that comes to mind when trying to describe the mood that their most recent album creates. But even that doesn't quite fit, as there is a lot going on in this collection of songs. After listening to a few tracks, one can understand the mood that it was setting, even if not being able to articulate it. Imagine some of the more droning songs that bands like Doves and Interpol have recorded, and add a bit of a distant feel created by main vocalist Kazu Makino. Gone are the progressive and harder guitar riffs of days past. On 23 they are replaced with more ominous arrangements that underscore the growth the band has achieved in its 10-plus-year history. Like most good artists, they are able to embrace this newer sound and explore its full potential. From the opening track to the last, we hear a full sound from this three piece outfit.

The first and titular track seems to elude to the recent fascination with the number 23, brought to the masses by the recent Jim Carrey movie. It's my understanding that that film had a bit to do with religion, and the song seems to touch a little on that theme as well, making clear allusions to Jesus Christ. The second track, "Dr. Strangelove," focuses on a feeling of abandonment, without clearly laying out for the listener what Makino is singing about. The stark aural arrangements give the listener the feeling of being locked inside on a cloudy day.

"The Dress" is where we start to feel the vibe of melancholy. Makino sings of a love lost, but it appears that she is the dump-er rather than the dump-ee. Despite its bleak feeling, the song seems to offer hope to all those women out there who may have recently ended a relationship with someone.

Several other songs seem to capture the despair that all of us face in our everyday lives, and that seems to be the running thread through a majority of the songs: love lost, innocence lost, coming to grips with yourself. But Blonde Redhead's approach to the subject matter is also redeeming. There is a glimmer of hope in even the darkest song. It's very nice to see the interplay between the music and the lyrics in this case, because to juxtapose the two, you have almost an inconsistent type of message. But when you think about it, isn't that what life is?

Stand out tracks from the album include "SW," "Spring and Summer Fall," "Publisher," "Top Ranking," and "23." It isn't until the end of the album that we feel as if we're emerging from our emo-hole, but by the time we get to "My Impure Hair," the listener might feel compelled to hit the back button on the CD player to listen to the more moody and dark songs that the album has to offer.

Blonde Redhead certainly deserves any and all critical praise that they can get. They truly have a unique voice in this world, and best of all, they know how to use it. A | Tyson Blanquart

RIYL: Sonic Youth, Interpol, Doves, Morcheeba, Boss Hogg

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