Album Reviews

Blonde Redhead – Misery Is A Butterfly

(4ad) UK release date: 15 March 2004


Hold the front page. Four years on from their last album, the magic-in-all-but-title Melody Of Certain Damaged Lemons, NYC three-piece Blonde Redhead have jumped ship to 4AD records and are back with a new record. This is truly marvellous news eh, pop-pickers?

You’ve no idea what I’m talking about? Blonde Redhead. Two Italian / Canadians and a cute Japanese girl called, a bit like the only instrument I can play, Kazu. Purveyors of several excellent albums through the ’90s awash with noisy, dissonant guitars, alternate tunings, and quiet, psychic-lullaby lyrics. A bit like Sonic Youth. Still not rung a bell?

Never mind, for this is a good place to start. In some ways a continuation of the gradual moves towards a gentler, craftier approach to songwriting that made their last album such a delightful surprise, Misery Is A Butterfly could almost be described as pop. Strings can even be heard swirling around the title track – a sure sign that they have grown up from their nihilistic no-wave NYC art-noise past.

I say “pop” guardedly, for this is pop 4AD style. Few labels have such a well defined trademark sound. The Pixies were the exception that proved the rule here, for 4AD means Lush, Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, Pale Saints and Cocteau Twins – namely mysterious, delicate and beautifully crafted sound-scapes, with pretty tunes underneath. And here, whether by accident or design, Blonde Redhead have blended seamlessly into this rich heritage of loveliness.

As before, the singing is split pretty much 50-50 between the nasal, arty delivery of Amadeo and the wonderful Kazu, giving us two distinct flavours alternating throughout. Kazu’s thick Japanese accent with a child-like tinge gives her songs the sort of other-wordly charm offered by Bj�rk. This is best evident on opening number Elephant Woman, where swirling acoustics provide a perfect featherbed for her fragile delivery; a similar job is performed by the aforementioned violins on the title track.

Amadeo’s numbers provide a slightly more abrasive take on the same theme, though compared with the all-out attack of his work on older albums, there are very few sharp edges left to speak of. Only on Falling Man are there some of the hurried detuned guitar lines he made his own. On previous albums, most notably Damaged Lemons, this rough edge provided a thrilling counterpoint to Kazu’s beauty, and perhaps that juxtaposition is the one unwelcome casualty of the move to an overall smoother sound.

Minor quibbles aside, there is much joyous music to immerse oneself in here. For lovers of intelligent pop – or for lovers of 4AD – Blonde Redhead are the real deal.


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