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band | 23 | review | alternative | Lollipop
by Tim Den
Like many of their recently acquired fans, I never gave two shits about Blonde Redhead until their '04 opus, Misery is a Butterfly. On it, the trio finally became a pop band armed with shoegazing instrumentation and otherworldly dreaminess as opposed to their beginnings as art students more interested in dicking around than writing actual songs. Misery is a Butterfly showed that the band had finally matured beyond their Sonic Youth-aping days, leaving behind meandering noodling and obtuse "it sounds like shit cuz it's hip and artsy, maaaaaan (actually, we just have no idea how to play or write songs)" in exchange for somber, melancholic beauty that's smeared at the edges. So it's no surprise that 23 refines that transformation even more, giving listeners the most accessible Blonde Redhead album yet. I say hallelujah.
If the opening title track doesn't smack you right in the face, then you obviously don't enjoy savory melodies. With reverbed-out piano chords, shimmering guitars, and haunting/floating vocals, it's at once driving, heartbroken, mysterious, addictive, emotive, affecting, and exotic. And it conveys all these feelings by repeating only two parts for the duration of the five-plus minutes without becoming labored or drawn out. Similarly, the rest of the album meditates on very few sections per song, opting instead to dwell on the main hook until you're completely hypnotized by it. Whether it's the eerie "The Dress" or the rocking "Spring and by Summer Fall," Blonde Redhead seem to want to make sure you don't forget how their choruses go. And chalk me up as one who loves every minute of it, cuz even though it might appear that the band are simply running in circles, with each passing chorus, the instrumentation/vocals change just slightly to ensure freshness. It's a good trick that only the best of the shoegazer bands can muster, and the trio pulls it off brilliantly on 23.
Other highlights include the inhumanely pretty verses of "Dr. Strangeluv," the almost crying-like synthetic voices of "Heroine," and the AM gold refrain of "Silently," but I gotta say, my favorite (aside from the title track) is "SW." With two drum sets - panned hard left and right - jamming an indestructible groove, guitarist/vocalist Amadeo Pace uses a two-note, almost mantra-like vocal hook to pin you down breathlessly. Incredible how two notes over and over again can build and build until it feels like it's telling your life story through music. If you don't get whiplash from throwing your neck to the rhythm, you'll certainly need tissue for the tears running down your face.
23 is Blonde Redhead's most cohesive, well-executed, streamlined release yet. Whereas other bands might be reduced to clichéd radio fodder under such a description, the trio has proven that it's just the next logical step in their becoming a better unit.