The one-time prot�g�s of Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley return with 23, their seventh studio album and second on 4AD.
The label’s influence is easy to hear and the more ethereal melodies they’ve recently moved towards suit Kazu Makino’s high-pitched, haunting vocals well. Though recorded in New York, the sound is more European, as well as more upbeat and lighter than their previous 4AD album Misery Is A Butterfly.
Musically, the trio have moved firmly into trip-hop territory, with a definite Saint Etienne influence underlying the title track and many of the others, particularly The Dress and Silently, both of which are pure summer pop, albeit in an indie stylee.
While Alan Moulder, who’s previously worked with Nine Inch Nails and My Bloody Valentine shares mixing duties (with Bloc Party/Muse mixer Rich Costey) there’s little evidence on 23 of the experimental noisescapes they were once known for, although Spring and by Summer Fall does hark back to a more guitar-heavy Sonic Youth-influenced past, with a dense, layered sound.
Overall though, 23 is harmonious and mostly upbeat, though still spectral and ethereal. The hypnotic, trippy drums on SW, not to mention the trumpet solo, are a particular treat, and the slower, almost ambient Publisher’s repetitive swirls invite you to lose yourself in the song’s harmonies and lyrics, throughout which it’s virtually impossible to ignore Amedeo Pace’s demands to “look at me”.
Top Ranking picks up the pace, with Makino’s soprano giving it a particularly haunting quality over the strong drums, while finale My Impure Hair harks back to the darker qualities of their previous work.
For a band still to be offering something new 12 years into their career is a rare and beautiful thing. As Blonde Redhead have grown and evolved, their sound has got tighter as they’ve moved ever further away from their discordant, often chaotic roots.
It’s a testament to their talent that by their seventh album they’re still continuing to develop and reinvent themselves, and in 4AD they seem to have found the perfect home – a record label whose distinctive sound dovetails almost perfectly with the journey they’ve been on since 2000’s A Memory of Certain Damaged Lemons.
Currently in the middle of a mammoth world tour, they’re due to arrive in the UK on May 24, with gigs in Manchester, Glasgow, Nottingham, Bristol and London. They’re definitely worth catching.