Blonde Redhead are one of those slow burning bands, getting slightly bigger, slightly slicker on each release. Their previous 'Penny Sparkle' was a little too slick for my tastes so it will be interesting to see where they go next. They are to be admired - 21 years and still going strong - as their press blurb states -they're making music, simply, because they have to.
This blurb suggests a more organic approach - melodies occasionally flirt with folk music; outdoor sounds, a suite of field recordings that they made in London’s Kew Gardens, are woven gently into the mix; a cursory listen to 'No More Honey', guitars swirl back into the mix showcasing their recently dormant Sonic Youth influences. Yes it sounds polished but its grittier than before and in fact there is the odd moment where the band lets down their guard and leaves imperfections in the finished track such as on the slinky “Cat On Tin Roof”.
Released on a limited Edition vinyl package with accompanying "Peel and Reveal" sticker insert.
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Blonde Redhead's career trajectory over the second decade of their career has been much different to the first. They used to be a perfect mixture of icy cool sophistipop and angular post-punk guitars, but in recent years they seem to have become increasingly understated, downbeat and often a bit wishy-washy. New album Barragan seems like an album of two halves, with the opening few tracks being disappointingly monochrome before a handful of really lovely numbers turn up on side B.
The first handful of tracks drag terribly, even in its weirder moments like 'Cat On Tin Roof' their cool seems to have evaporated into a basic lack of enthusiasm, but 'Barragan' suddenly shudders to life around track five. First the mumbly neo-baroque drama of 'The One I Love' with its childishly whispered vocals, softly plucked guitars and weeping clarinet that's given a subtle lift in the chorus with some harpsichord and little percussive touches. That's followed by the dreamlike 'No More Honey' which has a loud/quiet/loud formula with sleepy Pinback bass chords joined by buzzy guitar wobbles in the chorus.
The highlight comes with sprawling and surreal 'Defeatist Anthem (Harry and I)' which opens with some of the wonky melodicism that made 'Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons' such a triumph, transposed into their new, more electronics-infused sound, before trailing off into a weird passage of fingerpicked guitar and fluttering vocal processing, finally ending up in some sort of soft kraut-funk territory that descends into weird broken loops. If you, like me, find the gentle sound of their latter records a bit slow-going and patchy, you'll probably find yourself reaching for the skip button a few times here, but 'Barragan' isn't without redeeming features and if you've been a bit underwhelmed by recent albums then it feels like a step in the right direction.
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- Barragán by Blonde Redhead
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