Misery is a Butterfly
londe Redhead's past few releases can be viewed as a methodical disrobing process. Formerly covered by used retail clothing already faded by previous no-wavers, the band has peeled off the dissonant guitar rifts, allowing an unprecedented naked and original sound to surface on Misery is a Butterfly. Like any body, whether of humans or of music, the content is not entirely comparison-free. But the actual sound—the way the instruments are engineered and congealed, the way its waves tickle our eardrums—makes it difficult for us critics to peg with comparisons.
This newly exposed, fully natural Blonde Redhead melts string arrangements and analog keyboards into a flowing liquid of tuneful melodies. Masterfully produced and engineered by Fugazi's Guy Picciotto, the overall production does not feel like a product of a posh 4AD studio, but rather a hearth-heated 18th century living room. The romantic qualities of the orchestral arrangements along with the warm and organic nature of the piano and synths paint a picture of Blonde Redhead in the middle of regal carpets and polished brass, recording complex instruments, molded and hammered from sheet metal by a Roland technician-turned-time traveler.
With the compositional assistance of Eyvind Kang, disciple of experimental extraordinaire John Zorn, the orchestral arrangements provide a sweeping backdrop that avoids the tinny or squealy string qualities that sometimes cripple the conviction of a complex musical montage. In the title track, a breathy string figure rises and falls behind the rest of the ensemble, acting not as featured ingredient, but as a necessary and beautiful garnish to the already lush track.
Throughout Misery is a Butterfly, all recording tracks share this remarkably restrained touch. Analog keyboard rifts add a mystical lo-fi chassis to "Magic Mountain", dueling guitars lead a powerful musical attack in "Doll Is Mine", a thumping, jazzy bass line propels the rousing "Eqvvs" and woodblocks, spoons, and simplistic drum kits all act as creative medians for percussionist, Simmone Pace. But despite the increased emphasis on production, like Blonde Redhead's entire catalogue, the chirping, child-like cords of lead vocalists Amedeo Pace and Kazu Makino act as the essential ingredient to the bands avant-garde concoction.
The two are no Lou Reed and Nico: complementing each other with similar nasally tones, they are essentially male-female singing counterparts. Makino's singing highlight may appear on "Magic Mountain," where her sweet, elfin melodies tell a tale of time on a mountain, stricken with loneliness. Amedeo Pace's respective stand-out performance, "Falling Man", explores his admitted insecurities within one of the more riling songs on the disc. Featuring uppity guitar rifts and high-octave piano clinks, the number is a paradigm of Misery is a Butterfly's beauty. The production is blanketed in analog warmth as the band creates a magnificent number predominantly out of a simple progression.
Like "Falling Man", most of the tracks don't need ferocious hooks or awe-inspiring verse-chorus transitions. Instead, the New Yorker's rely on their musicianship and artistic savvy to create the well-placed minimalist bridge or speaker-switching background arrangements to complete the beauty of their songs. Their keen sense of style has allowed Blonde Redhead to cultivate a sound all their own within Misery is a Butterfly. The album hints that, sometime soon, us critics will be victimizing bands with Blonde Redhead comparisons.
Reviewed by: Kyle McConaghy
Reviewed on: 2004-09-17