Blonde Redhead - Penny Sparkle - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Blonde Redhead - Penny Sparkle

by Al Brown Rating:7 Release Date:2010-09-13

Looking at their 15 year back catalogue, it's clear that Blonde Redhead have always been a restless, experimental band. From their original love of bruised, Sonic Youth-influenced post-rock, to their last album, 2007's 23, a mix of woozy good-vibes with a side of Portishead-esque dread. Their eighth album pushes further into electronic territory, ploughing a furrow in which many newer bands are already firmly entrenched.

Opener 'Here Sometimes' is undeniably early-Bjork influenced: all icy drum-machine and shimmering synths, although the chorus has more in common with The Knife's brutal-but-lovely stalker-pop. 'Will There Be Stars', with its sinister bass thrum and drugged-out lyrics, treads a nervous line between the dark future-noir of Depeche Mode and the bandwagon-psychedelia of Empire of the Sun.

The floaty, half-asleep-pop of 'My Plants Are Dead' is much more promising. At one point I start fantasizing about lying in bed listening to it, drifting off to sleep with a lover in my arms, sharing the cotton-wool warmth of the painkillers we've ingested. It's not explicitly druggy music, but it's woozy, fractured stuff that seems destined to soundtrack moments of reflective, chemically-enhanced intimacy. 'Love or Prison', with its sedate drum pattern and sleep-talky vocals, promotes a similar atmosphere of transcendent wellbeing.

The Portishead-like 'Oslo' jolts one off that blissed-out plane with its spare, minor-key ruminations. As with the rest of the songs, the vocals are breathy and full phrases rarely (if ever) audible, so it is the music that creates most of the mood, in this case one of general sadness and uncertainty. 'Penny Sparkle' is similarly dark but slower and more brooding. 'Everything Is Wrong' is surprisingly less depressing: another dreamy soundscape, this time with a slightly Gallic air provided by swooning vocals and synthesised guitar trills.

'Black Guitar' is contemplative and foreboding; a simple minor-key guitar-riff and swelling synths form the backdrop to some very depressed sounding male and female vocals. The same influences that re-occur throughout the album, Portishead and Bjork in particular, are very much in evidence here and on the final track, 'Spain'.

If all songwriting is about choosing to either tell a story or set a mood then Blonde Redhead are very much about the latter, and on occasions here they do it beautifully. It's an endlessly reflective album whose limited palate, impeccable references and glacial pace are worn as badges of pride, and they just about get away with it.

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