Review Summary: Guy Picciotto produced, sound-redefining album from multi-race, multi-gender New York indie band.
Popular music is far from a man’s game, anyone in touch with modern music knows this. Women have built their place in the cutthroat music industry through nothing but talent and dedication (though gyrating hips tend to help.) So why is it so shocking to see co-ed rock bands? A group like The Donnas isn’t all that surprising, all girl-groups (though not necessarily rock) have been fixtures on the charts for years ‘n years, but when a woman shows up onstage with a bunch of guys and still holds her own, something just feels different. It’s all just sexism, of course, but there’s no doubt that bands like Sonic Youth, The Pixies and Yo La Tengo would be lacking particular elements if their respective females showed up sick one night. And Blonde Redhead is no different.
In a word, Kazu Makino is just ***ing cool.
The band came together in New York City, two Japanese women and two Italian twin brothers (one of the women left, so it’s down to three at this point.) They’re named after a song by legendary New York No Wave band, DNA, so it wouldn’t be hard to guess that Blonde Redhead’s music has a certain abrasive quality, but by the time the band’s Y2K opus, Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons was released their sound had begun to evolve (and would continue to evolve, as any fan of the band’s later material would know.) They weren’t just Sonic Youth’s more racially diverse counter parts anymore, and it’s evident right away. There’s something fragile and beautiful about the way the album’s intro (titled Equally Damaged) molds into the sly, cool-as-ice guitar sounds of In Particular. And it’s their in Kazu’s vocal melodies, and Simone Pace’s quasi-danceable drumbeat. The sound of Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons is laid-back, guitar based (the have no bassist, but there are a bunch of keyboards) and fairly dense, though the production (it was done by Guy Picciotto!) is just lo-fi enough so that nothing really gets clouded up. Think of it as Shoegaze (My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, you know the drill) but much clearer and drier.
Redhead has two vocalists, the aforementioned Kazu Makino, whose breathy coo adds a certain innocence to even the band’s heaviest material, and Amadeo Pace. Amadeo’s voice is definitely an odd one, but that really doesn’t stop it from being great. It’s much less melodic, but retains the same sort of innocence as Kazu’s. They are married to each other. It’s really cute when you think about it. For the most part, they trade off vocal duties, which makes albums flow much faster (they don’t on 2007 release, 23 and look what happens) and this is the case on album centerpiece(s), Hated Because of Great Qualities and Loved Despite of Great Faults (Amadeo takes the latter, Kazu takes the former.) Hated is eerie and sad, while Loved is almost bitter, but still mostly sad. The way the songs are set up, the lyrics are almost like a conversation between the two participants in a failing relationship (the titles too). The guitar interplay on Hated is some of the best on the album, almost as if the parts themselves are conversing (oh god, how cheesy) and as in most great relationships, the way they match up leaves many a rough edge, but the end product is beautiful (especially towards the end).
Simone Pace is truly the band’s secret weapon though. His drum beats are fresh and danceable, but don’t detract from the importance of guitars in each song, perhaps most importantly though, they fit well with the band’s sound. Imagine John Bonham playing with Pavement. Besides the obvious “he’s dead” issue, Bonham would completely ruin the band’s sound, despite his bombastic knack for beat-making. The swing Pace adds to Kazu/Amadeo duet, A Cure is profound, and adds a definite “trippy” quality to the tune. And that’s not the only Redhead tune he’s left his impressive signature on, listen around, you’re sure to hear something you like. And that goes for the whole album. All in all, Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons is awesome, listen to it if (and whenever) you have the chance.