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Synthsual Seduction: Getting Intimate with Blonde Redhead's Penny Sparkle

Posted by Kelly S. Osato, September 14, 2010 11:00am | Post a Comment
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A while ago, right here in this blogosphere, I shared a memorable, if somewhat goofy, moment I experienced in conversation with Blonde Redhead where it was determined that their signature sound is, seasonally speaking, " cold, like winter," punctuated by drummer Simone Pace's joking that they've been trying to score a "summer hit" all these years. True, there's nothing very ruddy or relaxing about the raw, malodorous roots they laid down in their hard-rocking early days, prompting fans to coin the multilingual heart-breakers as "art rock" darlings while some persnickety critics underrated them as Sonic Youth wannabes. Alas, that "certain damaged" sound that Guy Picciotto (of Fugazi and Rites of Spring fame) coaxed into the production Blonde Redhead's middle children albums (In An Expression of the Inexpressible, Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons and Misery is a Butterfly) is as gone as the no wave, DNA inspired D.I.Y. joie de vivre captured on the band's Steve Shelly (of, duh, Sonic Youth fame) produced self-titled debut as well as that of their self-produced, non-slump of a blonde redhead penny sparkle cover art record review album 4ad goth alan mouldersophomore effort La Mia Vita Violenta and it's bewitching follow-up Fake Can Be Just As Good (sigh). However, I believe congratulations are in order as it seems that Blonde Redhead have, with Penny Sparkle --- their eighth full-length album in fifteen years, their third record for the 4AD label --- created the most lusciously polished, goth jewel of a make-out record since the Cure's Disintegration dropped in 1989.

Sonically, Penny Sparkle seems pick up where the last Blonde Redhead album, 23, left off excepting for the storm cloud of synths that drape the landscape of the record like a down comforter blanketing a snow bank, melting even those once raucous guitars into a symphony of layered, atmospheric electro-confessionals (in terms of 23, think "The Dress" and "Publisher" plus that creepy eight-minute 23 outtake "(We Are A real Team) Harry and I"). I'm guessing this shift in the band's sound morphology has something to do with producers Alan Moulder (whose finger prints linger on 23 not to mention his famed "shoegaze" connections and work with artists like Depeche Mode, My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain --- make-out jams indeed) and Van Rivers & The Subliminal Kid (Fever Ray) who worked with the band in Stockholm thus accounting for the slight dregs Swedish pop influence that lend extra shine to Penny Sparkle's glittery glow. Though none of the tenBlonde Redhead kazu makino penny sparkle live guitar 4ad art rock songs that comprise the record really stand out on their own all of them resonate in comparable, if not reciprocal, aural ensembles that flaunt the usual melange of minor chords and shadowy progressive elements that have endeared Blonde Redhead to their expanding fan base. But, goll-ly day is it synthy!

Overall, I 'm going to continue to push this record as a the make-out record for 2010. Who knows if Blonde Redhead will ever catch up to said "summer hit" that seems somehow out of their reach (I suppose a meeting with Cee-lo wouldn't hurt). At least they've proven they can make a classy "synth" record that not only doesn't sound like it was sugar-coated for mainstream consumption or polished for awards ceremonies, but also seems to, along with current artists like Zola Jesus, herald the return of goth as a sexy trend to be indulged passionately, in darkened dens, with the cutter you love. If that doesn't sound appealing to you just give it a good seasonally synced listen, after all, you can't get more goth than that time of year when autumn meets winter, and winter is their season.

Blonde Redhead performing the single "Here Sometimes" from Penny Sparkle (4AD Session):

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