Blonde Redhead’s 14 year run as a band can split into two distinctive parts. The first part, from 1993 to 2000, is representative of their rise to fame, essentially through emulating Sonic Youth, but with their own twists. The second part is a bit more complicated. In 2002, Kazu Makino was trampled by a horse, and severely injured. This affected Blonde Redhead as whole. Their first album after Kazu’s accident, Misery Is A Butterfly, was a departure for the band, with a much more dreamy sound than their previous works. It was received well by fans and critics alike, but both wondered exactly where Blonde Redhead would go next. Would they return to their roots, or continue in this new direction? And if they did continue, for how long would they be able to keep things interesting. 23, their latest album, answers all these questions.
23 is a very good record. Kazu’s vocals are more haunting than ever before, melding with the instrumentation like a river winding deep through a forest. Her voice is one of the most distinctive of modern indie, and it’s clearly the high point of the record. While Kazu’s vocal are gorgeous on their own, the instrumentation lifts them to stunning. If you grew up listening to Prince, like I did, you’ll hear one of his techniques at work hear. Often, he’d let his voice slip into the exact same note as a synth or guitar, and the two would become impossible to distinguish from one another. While the presentation here is clearly different, the idea is the same; the instrumentation and vocals support each other, and the result is nothing short of amazing.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. 23‘s most glaring flaw is that Kazu doesn’t sing all the vocals. In several songs Amedeo Pace takes charge of them. While he’s capable of fine vocals (‘Publisher’), he simply doesn’t stand a chance against Kazu. After Kazu’s masterpiece, ‘The Dress’, it’s hard not to be bored with Amedeo’s ‘SW’. It’s no surprise that he’s responsible for most of 23’s filler tracks.
Luckily, Kazu takes the majority of the vocals, and her tracks are, for the most part, good enough to make us forget about Amedeo’s. So, while it’s still early to say anything for sure, I think 23 might be the best that Blonde Redhead has ever done. At it’s best, it’s utterly entrancing, and at it’s worst, it’s merely pleasant. This album is worth every cent you spend on it. 23 will be released tomorrow, 4/10, on 4AD. You can pre-order it here.