Blonde Redhead – Penny Sparkle (2010)

Following an album as majestic and innovative as 23 would be a hefty challenge for any band, so Blonde Redhead went in a very different direction with Penny Sparkle. Intricate, volatile guitar work has been the mainstay of the band s work since the beginning, even when nearly everything else about their music changed. This time, Amadeo and Simone Pace and Kazu Makino pare the guitars down to a bare minimum, letting the electronic flirtations on 23 develop into a full-blown romance. Though it s not the most drastic revision the band has made over the years comparing Blonde Redhead s Touch & Gooutput with their 4AD work is almost like hearing the work of two unrelated bands it s one of the most initially jarring. Though the band had explored its more delicate side for nearly a decade by the time Penny Sparkle was released, at first, it doesn t seem like the album s spare beats and synthscan support its melodies. With time, however, the group s collaboration with producers Alan Moulder and Van Rivers and the Subliminal Kid is just as rewarding in its own fine-boned way as their earlier work. Here Sometimes makes the most of Makino s one-of-a-kind vocals; she still sings in a dialect all her own, hovering somewhere in between Japanese, English, French and alien, and the song s limpid electronics bendto her reverie. Not Getting There is the closest Penny Sparkle gets to a pop song, and one of the few times the guitarsrise above a murmur. From there, the album just gets sparerand more experimental the title track is little more than Makino s lonesome voice and a dubby beat but this approach suits these songs about daydreams and escape. Love or Prison, which sets one of the album s most beautiful melodies afloaton arpeggiated keyboards and percussion that sounds like rattling chains, is a subtle standout; the same could be said of Black Guitar, a complicated love song that ranks among Blonde Redhead s finest duets. The band gets a little too close to trip-hop for their own good on a few songs, and their widescreen drama is missed occasionally, but Penny Sparkle isstill another beautiful reinvention for Blonde Redhead. BBC review

Blonde Redhead

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