Thursday, April 26, 2007
BLONDE REDHEAD | 23 | 4AD/Beggars Banquet
Blonde Redhead, the trio of twin brothers Amedeo and Simone Pace and Kazu Makino, once traded in the sonic dissonance inspired by New York’s early ‘90s no-wave scene. Now, 13 years later, their evolution into masters of exquisitely textured dream-pop is complete with 23, their latest—and strongest—effort.
Blonde Redhead began their metamorphosis with 2000’s Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons. They then switched labels for 2004’s cult-hit Misery Is a Butterfly, winding up on 4AD—home to one of dream pop’s chief architects, the Cocteau Twins, and an accurate touchstone for 23. But Blonde Redhead’s sonic vision is too much its own to be called derivative, thanks in large part to Makino’s rapturous voice, the perfect accompaniment for songs that are more about mood than narrative.
The title track opener is ridiculously addictive, all glistening guitars and densely layered keys with a fine veil of synth wash draped over the driving rhythm section. Makino’s whispered Geisha doll delicacy fits the luscious hush of “The Dress,” and on the brightly lit pop gem “Silently” her harmonies sound almost Petula Clark-like. Amedeo’s three vocal turns include the two most up-tempo cuts; Makino’s siren-like harmonies set them in even greater relief.
It turns out the number 23 happens to be Makino’s lucky charm—but luck has little to do with this record’s polished elegance, or Blonde Redhead’s bright future. —John Schacht
KILL THE LIGHTS | Buffalo of Love | Maple
Nearly every song title on Kill the Lights’ Buffalo of Love would make a great title for a short story: “Two Sinister Gentlemen,” “Skinny White Girls,” “You Took My Knife,” “Lady Sniper,” “Ceremony in the Basement.” Enigmatic phrases like these usually suggest a deeper texture to an album, and Buffalo of Love is, like the image its title conjures, a wonderful beast.
Kill the Lights wear their Interpol admiration proudly, but a few seconds into “Skinny White Girls,” Kill the Lights reveal their inner U2; by the opening chords of “Arctic, at Dawn,” the Toronto band has settled comfortably into their own kind of darkness. One guitar plays fast high notes, the other slowly bends lower notes, and then the band releases their secret weapon: vocalist Stephanie Hanna.
From there on out, it only gets thicker: “Lady Sniper” handclaps around Susan Sontag’s observation in On Photography that “the modern camera is trying to be a ray gun,” and “You Took My Knife” makes clear that fine line between dancey New Order basslines and disco. Kill the Lights tell dark stories through guitar arpeggios, thick bass lines and the perfect blend of male/female vocals, creating a kind of animal that is hopefully a long way from becoming extinct. —Annie Holub
VARIOUS ARTISTS | A Tribute to Joni Mitchell | WEA
Even though the tribute-album concept has gone beyond cliché, every once in a while a decent collection emerges. Canadian songstress Joni Mitchell has enjoyed a very productive and lucrative career, exemplifying the epitome of class and emotional wordplay. Her extensive catalog illustrates an incredible musical range, which is mirrored in this homage. The only real issue is the somewhat diminished celebration of Mitchell’s work, as only 12 songs are presented.
But there are few complaints about these dozen jewels. From the neo-symphonic Sufjan Stevens’ “Free Man in Paris” to the Latin-influenced cover of “Dreamland” by Caetano Veloso, Mitchell’s songs retain their integrity even when morphed into something new. Prince, a longtime Mitchell fan, delivers a heartfelt performance on “A Case of You.” With Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Annie Lennox and k.d. lang on board, it only gets better. —James Kelly