Album Reviews

Blonde Redhead – Penny Sparkle

(4AD) UK release date: 13 September 2010

Blonde Redhead - Penny Sparkle It’s hard to believe that Blonde Redhead have been around for 15 years now. Wild mass acclaim has eluded them so far, but that’s not always a bad thing. So, as relative unknowns, they may seem like a ‘new band’ to many avid music fans. It seems unlikely that Penny Sparkle will be the album to suddenly propel them into the mainstream, but it will impress their already established fan-base as well as any new listeners.

Perhaps they’ve missed the boat in terms of producing an album that shapes a particular scene, or becomes the iconic sound of a generation. But their long and consistent track record for producing good albums has made them the ever-present bastions of electronic dream-pop.

Penny Sparkle is so laid back that it’s almost lackadaisical. Hardly surpassing the tempo of a comatose patient’s heartbeat, it floats along upon a cloud of minimalism and tranquillity. This album should never be listened to on the go, as part of a daily commute to work, as that would detract from the serenity of this particular aural pleasure. Lock the door and turn the lights off and Penny Sparkle becomes almost medicinal; the perfect cure for a stressed out brain, or perhaps for the post-hangover frazzle.

Front-woman Kazu Makino’s voice is as sweet as honey dripping off a silver spoon into the porridge of sharp electronic drums and bass-synth drones underneath. The songs are sultry and sulky, beautiful and boring, engrossing yet distant. The listener is ushered to sink into each song as if it’s the finest duck-feather duvet, feeling comforted and at ease.

The album is undoubtedly a refined piece of work. Nothing is missing, yet nothing’s too swollen. The balance of instrumentation and production on each track is faultless. Opening track Here Sometimes takes inspiration from European techno pop, and Kazu reminds the audience “This is me, completely me”, reassuring the listener that what Blonde Redhead do is entirely genuine and pure – wearing their heart on their sleeve for all to see.

My Plants Are Dead’s dreamlike, suspended chords slosh around inside the head of a daydreamer, synths bulge before rising to the surface and pop like bubbles of air shooting upwards through water.

This is an album that, once consumed, lies dormant in the mind of the listener, ingrained but not at the forefront, playing in the subconscious; more demanding than background music, but short of immediacy. Penny Sparkle will haunt your dreams and turn them into spectral ballads, becoming the soundtrack to dreamlike sequences of love gained and lost. It’s not soppy, it’s not boring – it’s the realisation of a sound crafted to both soothe and scare.

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