first impressions: blonde redhead – penny sparkle

*you can thank NPR for this one. they’re streaming this album in its entirety on their website until next week’s release date.

17 years and eight albums in, blonde redhead don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon, nor do they seem content to stick with established formulas. switching from the jagged noise rock of their earliest releases, to the baroque chamber pop of misery is a butterfly, and then to the swooning dream-pop of career peak 23, kazu makino and the brothers pace have finally come to the last stone unturned: electro-pop. indeed, like it’s name would insinuate, penny sparkle boasts spare but sparkling synth textures in place of the gauzy guitars that enveloped songs past. though the shift sounds jarring on paper, the trio sells it surprisingly and impressively smoothly in practice.

recorded in new york and stockholm, the album was co-produced by van rivers and the subliminal kid, who worked similar magic with karin dreijer-andersoon on her debut as fever ray last year. like that album, sparkle simultaneously sounds vast and claustrophobic, inviting and foreboding. it’s all laid on the table with opener/lead single “here sometimes.” it’s skeletal pulse, ominous synth throb and hissing sound effects would sound just as appropriate sung by karin, but kazu’s delivery suits lends the song a softer, sweeter, but equally haunting touch. it’s one of the album’s strongest statements of purpose, and will doubtless become one of the most indelible moments in their discography.

the alternately dreamy and dirge-like “not getting there” sounds more like blonde redhead as they once were. even with the heavy synthesizers that lurk and lunge throughout the chorus, this would have been a fine standout on 23, which like this album, was mixed by shoegaze sorcerer supreme alan moulder. from there, we’re treated to the lush, languid “will there be stars,” a stellar pace vocal workout that recalls the band’s reticent radiohead similarities. other immediate standouts from there include meditative epic “love or prison” with its sprawling, silent shouting synth progression (is there any band out there right now who doesn’t want to be the knife?), the sullen swing of “oslo” and the bubbling, bristling melancholy of “spain.”

too many indie bands old enough to be considered veterans (spoon, yo la tengo…) get taken for granted for their consistency, often getting ignored for the intangible crime of sticking to their winning strategies. underrated to begin with, blonde redhead shrewdly opt to play a different game by the same rules each time, changing and rearranging their sonic signatures to fit any genre or style without sacrificing quality. it’s a method that has yet to fail them, and with penny sparkle, it may have yielded their biggest, most understated success to date.

penny sparkle is out sept 14 on 4AD.

here sometimes

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One Response to “first impressions: blonde redhead – penny sparkle”

  1. wallernotweller Says:

    i loved the new direction:
    http://wallernotweller.wordpress.com/2010/10/06/review-blonde-redhead-penny-sparkle-4ad/

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