Penny SparkleAlbum |
Italo-Japanese trio forget to bring the noise.
When Blonde Redhead first appeared in 1995, they were, if nothing else, the world's foremost Italo-Japanese Sonic Youth tribute band. But from those less than promising beginnings, the trio of singer Kazu Makino and multi-instrumentalist brothers Amedeo Pace and Simone Pace quickly grew into an often-fascinating blend of brutalist noise and delicate beauty, with the mix tipping decidedly in favor of the latter on more recent albums like Misery Is A Butterfly. Three years after 2007's 23, the closest these longtime cult favorites had yet come to a mainstream hit, Blonde Redhead return with a surprisingly re-tooled sound. Working with Swedish production duo Van Rivers and The Subliminal Kid (best known for their work on the Fever Ray album), the trio have largely dispensed with their previous sonic signatures. The guitars are considerably scaled back--on several songs, dispensed with entirely--in favor of the same chilly electronic keyboards and heavily-processed noises that have been staples of certain indie subgenres at least since the first Portishead album. This isn't necessarily a bad thing: the songs are filled with inviting textures and intriguing sounds, and Makino's whispery vocals are as alluring as ever. But that ugly-beautiful tension of earlier albums like Fake Can Be Just As Good was what made Blonde Redhead what they were, and its absence might disappoint longtime fans. As thoroughly lovely as Penny Sparkle is, its elegance and restraint might be even more appealing if there were some rougher textures scratching through the gauzy surfaces.