By Kelly Scott | September 8th, 2010
There is always one thing to be said about ahead-of-hip rockers Blonde Redhead: they’re unflinchingly reliable. Their history, unfortunately, isn’t one of broadly shared affection. Blonde Redhead materialized in 1995, but my hands only touched Misery is a Butterfly in 2004, when even then, they only generated half a head turn. Building on the momentum created during the divine Misery is a Butterfly, the band hit the surface with 23 in 2007. 23 was markedly more commercial, but withheld a sustainable energy that still secures Blonde Redhead into elevated status.
And now we’re here, three years forward with a new album called Penny Sparkle (due out on 9/14) and a not-so-new Blonde Redhead.
First, let’s extinguish any lofty expectations; Penny Sparkle isn’t an instant grabber. Some may even contend that they’ve wasted their brilliance and lost the force that backed their previous exertions. Personally, I can get behind this album. Penny Sparkle is surely a repackaged effort, even if lead singer Kazu Makino claims they’ve never made music this way. However, it is still the always lovely, well-oiled Blonde Redhead — and if anything, it’s substantially more instinctive and appropriately less cerebral.
By design, Blonde Redhead has never projected visible appeal. This could very well be the prefixed fate attached to naming your band after a DNA song. Naturally, Penny Sparkle shines is in its subtlety and non-intrusive demeanor. They’re not trying to be brave here, and it’s easy to write off a band like Blonde Redhead for an album like Penny Sparkle because they’re not constantly pushing the ethereal envelope and obliquely accelerating. For the myopic, the subjective flaw in Penny Sparkle takes shape in the form of familiarity, not technical execution.
Structurally, they’ve never sounded better. “Here Sometimes,” the appointed single, channels Bjork during Dancer in the Dark, which is awesome for an ocean of reasons, most salient being that Bjork sounds incredibly poised and irresistibly inviting on that soundtrack. “Spain” is an intelligent closer, equipped with all the other-worldy atmosphere you could imagine, and “Not Getting There” is equally as inspiring, emitting a darker, more haunting tone.
Was it everything I dreamed? Not completely, but bands like Blonde Redhead will always mean something unexplainably positive to me. Penny Sparkle, while it’s not Misery Is a Butterfly and Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, is definitely still worth the art college try.