Blonde Redhead - Barragán

by Justin Pearson Rating:8.5 Release Date:2014-09-02

In a hefty back-catalogue of experimental rock/dream pop, New York trio Blonde Redhead have crafted a stand-out mood piece just as unusual as their name on ninth offering, Barragan. The moods are all over the place but imbued with a unifying pop sensibility that seems skewered onto a crooked branch in a slightly unsettling forest landscape. On first listen it's hard to tell what's around the corner or how all the pieces fit together, but that eventually becomes the whole appeal of the album, and what makes it such a cohesive collection of songs.

The title track opens the album, inviting you into a fairytale wood and setting the scene complete with birds chirping, guitar and flute. After this brief moment of clear-your-head peace, there's a sudden shift as you jump straight into the swirling pool of 'Lady M', with its restrained beat haunted by echoey guitar and more flute. A sweet feeling of anticipation can be felt - almost like a pleasant drowning or sinking into unchartered depths on some strange planet.

'Dripping' is not only one of the album's best tracks, but also where the idea of a 'mood' is cemented. The last time I remember this happening was at the beginning of the 2011 film Drive with Kavinsky's 'Nightcall' playing at the beginning as Ryan Gosling's character is driving through the streets at night. With a beat as slick as the black, wet pavement during rain and a hint of funk, this is a song you could either dance to or drive to; either way, it makes you want to move.

'Cat on Tin Roof' is a slow-rocker, embodying a lazy melody as Kazu Makino's vocal style finds her ruminating out loud rather than singing. There's a nice freestyle, jazzy guitar thrown into the mix, and it all adds up to a soothing nonchalance you can't help but tap your feet to.

There's a chamber pop aspect to 'The One I Love' that's also a little creepy and unsettling. Soft, breathy vocals and harpsichord combine to give it a Bjork-esque atmosphere before completely disbanding at the end in a self-implosion of garbled noise.

Following on the driving theme, the lengthy 'Mind to Be Had' is the perfect companion track to 'Dripping.' The first three minutes cruise along uninterrupted, with all windows rolled down. You can almost feel the fresh air hitting your face as you're propelled forward by the easy beat and guitar, reassuring you it's the right destination the car is heading to.

It could easily be a relative of Cut Copy's debut Bright Like Neon Love from 2004. Amedeo Pace's vocals here are his strongest on the album, and the delivery is no less than a Roger Hodgson/Robert Plant hybrid.

The juxtaposition of the first and last half of 'Defeatist Anthem (Harry and I)' points again to the seemingly illogical theme of the whole album. The moods are so entirely different: it starts out entirely hopeful; then, after a short acoustic break and some street/outdoor noise, a Jew's Harp can be heard (weird, I know). Before it finally dies out, there's a muffled ghostly vocal. An uncomfortable listen near the end, but somehow it makes sense.

The last two tracks, 'Penultimo' and 'Seven Two', are properly placed as album closers: the former is full of a fresh, 'after the rain' feel peppered by lightly discordant percussion as both Makino and Pace share the stage and duet perfectly together, while the latter shares the same numbing space and complete stillness of mood that Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions inhabited on 2001's Bavarian Fruit Bread.

Barragan is an interesting album for sure, and one which might change my perspective of a band I knew little about just a month ago. Trust me, I did my homework and played catch up. Now that I've made it to class I'm ready to pay attention.

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