Review Summary: 23 is huge. Take that any way you want, because it applies.
The mix of cultural backgrounds that the members of Blonde Redhead provide surely influences their sound. How much more unlikely does it get than two Italian twins who actually grew up in Canada and a Japanese girl who relocated to the US for study purposes meeting each other and forming a band in New York? From there, they took influence from no wave bands and picked up Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley to do their producing. The press generally ignored them, but they picked up a reputation as the next Sonic Youth. That was in 1993. Fourteen years later, Blonde Redhead feels they have enough experience to do everything themselves, including the production work with their latest album, 23. The album has nothing to do with the Jim Carrey movie of the same name, but they persisted on keeping the same name for the album as lead singer Kazu Makino holds that 23 is her lucky number.
That luck transferred over to the music of the album, as 23 is a triumph of layering melodies and brilliant songwriting. Taking the production into their own hands, Blonde Redhead’s 23 brings a sloppier style to their music rather than shimmering, clean cuts. Like pulling taffy, every note flows into the next, with no breaks in the sound. The album is so deep that it is almost impossible to get to the basis of each song. Much in the vein of shoegaze like My Bloody Valentine, the vocals simply integrate themselves into the music instead of taking precedence over the instrumentals. Unlike My Bloody Valentine, however, the band provides energetic drums and basslines to accompany the rich clean guitars and droning keyboards. Remarkably, with the exception of one song with French horn, the album only consists keyboards, guitars, bass, drums, and vocals to create an album with such a full sound.
23 is relentless, without a poor song on it. A straight 45 minutes of excellence, the first few listens through the album almost overwhelm the listener, there is so much to listen for and enjoy. The album’s title track opens the album with haunting, spacey piano strikes. As drums, bass, and textural chords come in and almost completely drown out the original piano, 23
begins and never lets go. Makino’s haunting vocals soar over the pulsating band behind her, but her melodies are simply the melody, not the primary focus. Lyrically, Makino sings rather mediocre lyrics, but it does not matter, the music and her accent drown out her words. Spring and by Summer Fall
, placed in the middle album, further pushes the boundaries of the band’s textural experiments and big, ambiguous sound. Here, Amedeo Pace takes the microphone and provides a different tone for the group, his vocals more aggressive than his female counterpart’s. Musically, legato guitar strumming and sweeping textural keyboard fading in and out provide a wall of sound that stays constant throughout the entire song and the album.
Despite the texture and ambiguity, Blonde Redhead has nothing to hide in their songs. The concrete bottom of the songs, their chord structure and rhythmic articulation, are just as fantastic as the overall product. My Impure Hair
, the album closer, is as close to a stripped down song as 23 possesses. It features acoustic guitar and tranquil vocals from Makino, but ambient noise and keyboard drones accent the song and add nuances that make the song sustainable for nearly five minutes. The chord progression becomes much more apparent on the song, and it proves the band’s talent in pure songwriting. Being able to hear her vocals better on the simpler song, Makino improves her lyrics and sings about losing her virginity and becoming impure because of it. Where My Impure Hair’s
instrumentation makes it easy to find the basis of the song, SW
makes it more difficult. Instead of great chord progressions, SW
remains rather monotonous, sitting on the same chord for a while. Pace’s vocal melodies and the rhythmic intricacy of the song make it one of the standouts on the album. The song moves more in the middle when a synth brass solo gives a break from the two main themes in the song. Blonde Redhead have many ways of composing songs and at the bottom of the album, 23 has great variety.
However, one of the bad effects of such a large, full sound is the fact that it just becomes repetitive after a while. Much like Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible, there is no repose from the huge sound, not until the final track. 23 has a lack of contrast, and that is really its only flaw. The album, despite its ever-flowing style, feels together and cohesive. Blonde Redhead’s first attempt at producing their own album proves they still need work in that respect, but their songwriting overshadows their loud production style. Overall, 23 is the most consistent album of 2007 thus far.
Spring and by Summer Fall
My Impure Hair