Review : Blonde Redhead - Penny Sparkle
PitchforkThere's room for both innovators and curators in indie rock, and if you appreciate the latter, perhaps you've found time for Blonde Redhead over the past two decades. Not all of us could be there to experience No Wave, SST-era Sonic Youth, or My Bloody Valentine as actual recording artists firsthand, but as Blonde Redhead stated on their 1997 album, Fake Can Be Just As Good. The group has always strived to be a gateway to cool and, as such, would probably take it as a compliment to suggest they never sounded like they could've been from anywhere other than New York.
That comes to an end on Penny Sparkle, an album whose quest to evoke a more comfortable point in our collective lives almost qualifies it as chillwave. Yet it's not the sound of "the beach" or "youth" that Penny Sparkle embodies, but rather our last economic boom period, a time that inspired countless chill-out compilations and dubious record deals from labels who swear they found their more radio-friendly Portishead. If you happen to be a music coordinator for Banana Republic, Penny Sparkle is an early Christmas gift. For everyone else, you're left to wonder whether 2010 will produce a more profoundly boring album from a band who actually had a reputation to uphold.
This shift doesn't come wholly unexpectedly-- songs like "The Dress", "My Impure Hair", and "Heroine" leaned toward pillowy electro-balladry, but they served as important contrast between the Loveless worship. Here, it's the only side of the story being told, and it's being told with the kind of BPMs that could knock out a speed addict. This kind of stuff is derisively called background music, and rightfully so, since every member of Blonde Redhead here sounds afraid to step forward. Singer Kazu Makino is almost exclusively merely casting shadows over everything, and transitions from verses to choruses are merely implied. This is not the kind of stuff you need to hire Alan Moulder to mix for you.
Outside of a distorted vocal on "Not Getting There" and a slowly blooming and surprisingly gripping waltz ("Everything Is Wrong"), the arrangements seem done up like hospital rooms, every sound picked for maximum sterility. If you're in a forgiving mood, you can liken it to a chloroformed late-90s Depeche Mode or an honestly failed attempt at the frosted sensuality of Vespertine. If you're in a realistic mood, you'll hear Amedeo Pace carelessly whispering through the soft-focus reggae of "Will There Be Stars" and imagine Roxy Music stuck on a Carnival cruise....full text
StateBlonde Redhead have been churning out records of psychedelic power pop for nearly two decades now, but it was only with the release of their last record, 23, where they threatened to stamp their mark into the mainstream.
From the first thumping drum beats of ‘Here Sometime’s, the first track on Penny Sparkle, you get the impression that you are in for a repeat performance of 23, i.e: the euphoric screaming vocals of Kazu Makino that blend into the dreamy synthesisers and guitar hooks that makes perfect upbeat pop music.
Although most fans wouldn’t have minded this, considering the standout classic tracks on 23, Penny Sparkle delves into something far deeper than its predecessor, creating a record that’s full of space, and although it might not create the instant three minute pop bliss that tracks on 23 achieved, Blonde Redhead could just have made their best record yet....full text
SlantmagazineI have a kneejerk inclination to equate Blonde Redhead to Asobi Seksu, and for obvious reasons. Both bands are based out of New York City. Both feature the remote, angelic voices of gifted, Japanese-born female leads. And both rely on a particularly airy brand of dream-pop to express their alienation and lost love. But whereas Asobi Seksu's latest release, 2009's Rewolf, painted its splendorous world with acoustic guitars, bell and hammer tones, and other organic atmospherics, the trippy trio of Blonde Redhead has gone in the opposite direction, diving headfirst into layers upon layers of electronic romanticism for their eighth studio album, Penny Sparkle.
And "trippy" seems to be the appropriate word here, as the electro-pop sounds of Penny Sparkle immediately smack of '90s European trip-hop artists, among them Massive Attack, Portishead, and Hooverphonic. Funereal and crawling, with a heaping amount of Bond-esque cinematic splendor thrown into the mix, the album suggests an all-too-familiar advertising vista: silver sports car piloted by a white-collar lothario, speeding through a clean, urban landscape slicked with fresh rainfall. In other words, for all its dreaminess, Penny Sparkle is clinical and almost always predictable, despite the exotic murmurs of lead singer Kazu Makino. It is her voice alone that manages to drag along the loose assemblage of fuzzy drum smacks, coy guitar hooks, and slithery keyboards into a semblance of sincere artistry....full text
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