ight years ago Blonde Redhead wrote “In Particular,” a song they will never write again, because, 23 says blithely, they don’t have to. Doomed as we are, perhaps, to on-repeat the few clean, snappy cuts tucked in an interminably listless oeuvre, we forget that this oeuvre is one of the most forgivably and digestibly sad. From 1995’s tawdry, one-minute-twelve-second post-it lullaby “Young Neil” to 2005’s morgue-dance title track “Misery Is a Butterfly,” this trio is that rare band to whom fans gushingly assign derogatory adjectives—meaning well from their coma on the floor.
The personable little synth from La Mita Via Violenta’s “Equally Damaged” is but another artifact of Blonde Redhead that’s gone but not forgotten. It need not be resurrected, no matter how original or playful. Too often artists engage in a quest to repeat what they once liked about themselves, what others once liked, or both. But nor have BR done the opposite––looked forward to the only knowable money-maker of the F.M. dial. They’ve shaken hands with their last release and moved on.
Unlike another teen-year-old contemporary whose integrity floated off a long time ago, Blonde Redhead wallops our post-Misery doubt with an opener that certainly reeks of My Bloody Valentine but also makes respectful sense: the drift away from original label Smells Like has also meant a drift away from no-wave and into dreamy luxury. Looping vocals with herself amid a sandy undertow of warped guitars, Kazu Makino latches on to a familiar penchant for the cold, dark keys of the scale. Her notes either romance their difference with languorous, seductive (but still miserable) strides (“My Impure Hair”), or stretch up half a note as if it were three octaves (“23”).
Slithery melodic gesturing is the band’s greatest signature, one that reaches back to their 1995 debut. Here it’s compressed by attention to atmospheric effects, as if to comment on—but not exactly endorse—the maniacally digital contemporary scene. The squeaky-clean production of Misery Is a Butterfly has been smudged, sanded, and weathered: the bubbling strings of “Dr. Strangeluv” languish without oxygen as Makino howls with plenty of air but a dearth of hope. On “The Dress” she admits, “I love you less / Now that I know you.” This is an effortless, intimately filmic bit of emotion that burns into the mind’s ear. Makino was fittingly the vocal help on TV on the Radio’s recent “Hours,” and both bands are clearly walking in complementary stride, BR’s mottled, vertiginous elegies slamming against us as expertly as TVOTR’s ornate, bustling knockouts.
Apart from obvious single “Silently,” (Makino’s predictable but oppressively affecting serenade), “Spring and by Summer Fall” is the album’s center, a powerfully sensual counterpart to that old faithful, “In Particular.” Not since twelve-year-old duet “Down Under” has Blonde Redhead explored their intra-complementary nature so fully. “Spring” is a boisterous undertaking: a misty, rabid, but perfectly contained journey such as no psych rock revivalist has managed. Yet nothing is actually being “revived” here, merely harnessed: reflectively, instinctively, and without posture.
Both songs are clearly of the same band, the same family of cat-stretch half-steps, almost danceable heartbeat rhythms, and guitars that create entire emotive scenes on their own. But with experience comes some uniformity: here the feather-light drums follow those guitars like a shadow: a poster song of noise versus a guitar in an empty room. The piano on “Publisher” is a new addition: a flattering garnish atop a composition of familiar, mutually feeling instruments. But its addition is a glimpse of the growth that separates has-beens from steady-goings. The band have come full circle and kept going. Their commandeering vision here is just a respectful half-nod to the other specimens beneath the limelight.