Blonde Redhead
Penny Sparkle


3.5
great

Review

by Cam EMERITUS
September 12th, 2010 | 22 replies


Release Date: 2010 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Another new direction for Blonde Redhead; this one's just a little more drastic

It's like Blonde Redhead enjoys messing with us. And this new album here is just another case in point. Penny Sparkle sounds like a transitional record, an attempt to deviate from what came before (whatever that may be) by staking out new ground. Thing is, so has Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons and 23, in pointedly different ways: Melody beckoned towards a warm, stark sound; 23 was large, expansive, and ambitious. Both were flawed records that showcased a band that was uncomfortable in their new clothes, and both hinted at remarkable things to come. And then, with those following records, Blonde Redhead deviated from the proverbial course, by either crafting something completely unworthy (Misery is a Butterfly!) or by doing something totally different. Either way, they've been leaving us fumbling in the cold.

This is how albums like Penny Sparkle are created, being the aforementioned curveball that succeeds 23. Penny Sparkle is the first Blonde Redhead record to make absolutely no sense in consideration with the rest of the band's discography: it's an airtight, synth-dominated, ridiculously catchy dream-/electro-pop record that does away with anything that Blonde Redhead's ever done before, save for the captivating melodies and the slow, almost funereal tempos. It's a gamble that you'd think could be potentially career-sinking if it wasn't done well.

Thankfully, Penny Sparkle mostly is, in its own unique way. Stark and subdued, Penny Sparkle applies the kind of natural melancholy that dominated the band's last few records to something pristinely artificial. As soon as "Here Sometimes" opens the record, you hear a thumping, mechanical drumbeat and something that sounds like steam hissing: it all literally sounds like machinery. Instrumentally, it's like Penny Sparkle is heartless: everything sounds endlessly labored over and computerized, with no room allotted for any sort of human touch; this can be uncomfortably unemotional. This straightforward and fussy approach to songwriting does let Blonde Redhead focus on delivering their most gratifying melodies to date: "Not Getting There," "Black Guitar," and "Spain" are simply ridiculously catchy, however forlorn and frosty they might sound.

All of this is almost overwhelmingly cold and desolate, so it's really no surprise that Penny Sparkle's best songs are when vocalists Kazu Makino and Amedeo Pace add a little life and gravitas to the music. In "Not Getting There" and "Oslo", Makino seems to almost overcome the detachment and lifelessness of the music with her strained vocals; the effect of her actually trying to make herself be fully heard and understood over the blanketing synths and throbbing drum machines is captivating. However, Makino is just as content to sound as equally detached on many of the songs as well. This either makes for some really chilled, relaxed listening or, at Penny Sparkle's worst, creates the effect that Makino just doesn't really care about what she's singing: songs like these are less textural and subdued than laconic and lazy, with the title track and the too-long "Love or Prison" to be the greatest offenders.

Penny Sparkle's brisk length works to its advantage: music this glacial just can't be endured for too long. But this isn't to say Penny Sparkle doesn't (possibly) foretell a interesting future for Blonde Redhead; in fact, I'd say I'm hoping more than ever before that the band sticks with this newfangled direction, to see if they can work out the kinks and make the kind of record Penny Sparkle could've been. Of course, by saying that, I'm setting myself up to be even more disappointed when Blonde Redhead throws another curveball at me with their next record; this might have to do.



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Dominic Mercurio (4)
a moody synth-heavy cousin to the sound of their previous album "23". More Electronic then ever, the...


Comments:Add a Comment 
joshuatree
Emeritus
September 12th 2010


3742 Comments


ugh it's late, i'll look this over again tomorrow

but yayy finally got something out about this, now i'm gonna sleeep

StreetlightRock
Emeritus
September 12th 2010


3768 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Yup.

gaslightanthem
September 12th 2010


5209 Comments


i've never actually listened to blonde redhead ...

StreetlightRock
Emeritus
September 12th 2010


3768 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Fix that! 23 is mind blowingly good.

Tits McGee
September 12th 2010


1876 Comments


yeah I need some stuff by these guys. I'll start with either this or 23

good review cam

AggravatedYeti
September 12th 2010


7685 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

this album reminds me a lot of Misery Is A Butterfly.
and by that I mean awesome.

Photon
September 12th 2010


1292 Comments


i remember this band are they Italian or something?

MyDearWormwood
September 12th 2010


225 Comments


What a horrid band name.

AggravatedYeti
September 12th 2010


7685 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

i remember this band are they Italian or something?

they're an American band but the Pace twins are Italian

WoodLawn
September 12th 2010


134 Comments


I really enjoyed 23, I hope this is as good.

cody72
September 13th 2010


10 Comments


Both "Misery is a butterfly" & "23" were great. This one after 1-2 listens feels cold & soulless....

BallsToTheWall
September 13th 2010


44477 Comments


Didn't hear about this. Good review getting immediately.

Digging: Tove Lo - Queen of the Clouds

thebhoy
Emeritus
September 13th 2010


4461 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is awesome, I've never really been a Blonde Redhead fan either.

Rut8norm
September 13th 2010


32 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

strange you feel its so different from their previous work. i just posted my review as well, but i was actually focused on how this was the smallest step i feel they've taken as a band from "23" to this. It's of course an evolution, but from following this band from album to album, it actually didn't surprise me as much as I thought it might. good review though, i agree with a lot of what you mentioned.

porch
September 13th 2010


8460 Comments


good review

album's p good

thebhoy
Emeritus
September 14th 2010


4461 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

p4k review of this is fucking retarded.

AggravatedYeti
September 14th 2010


7685 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

pretty much

JesusV4
September 14th 2010


391 Comments


Very well-written review; impressive!

I've long relegated Blonde Redhead to the status of a Sonic Youth cover band (though they have not been one in an even longer time!). Now that I've got every SY record, and since this review intrigues me so much, I just might finally check them out.

StreetlightRock
Emeritus
September 15th 2010


3768 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Ever since Melody..., they haven't sounded at all like SY.

CelestialDust
September 15th 2010


3155 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

really like 'my plants are dead'



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