Like a couple of the albums I mentioned in the first post of this series, counting down numbers ten through six, this album marks my introduction to the band in question. In the case of Blonde Redhead’s “23”, though, it also marks a monumental shift for a band that had already been toiling for almost fifteen years and had six albums under its belt.
The New York-based trio were originally formed in 1993 by Italian-born twin brothers, Amedeo and Simone Pace and Japanese vocalist Kazu Makino. When I went back to explore their back catalogue after falling in love with “23”, I was surprised to find that all their early stuff was heavily influenced by the no wave noise rock of the late 70s. Their sound changed slightly over the course of their albums but none of them came a shade close to the all out majesty of the shoegaze revival manifested in “23”. So although I could see how their fans up to this point might’ve been disappointed by this new direction, I was most definitely not.
The reason for the shift, a happy accident, was that this particular album was the trio’s first attempt at self-production. They had entered into the studio with only loose ideas for songs and the recording process was a difficult one. By the time they were near complete, the band was unsure what they had. So they brought in Alan Moulder (My Bloody Valentine, Jesus And Mary Chain, Ride) to mix it. And well, you can definitely hear his stamp on it.
All ten tracks on “23” are fine, some of the finest they have recorded to this day (in my humble opinion), but for the purposes of this post, here are my three picks for you to sample.
”Dr. Strangeluv”: This one appears as track number two and set against the opener, which I will get to in just a moment, is a lovely comedown. It’s lovely and laidback, a breather, if you will, to let you recharge in time for the rest of the album. Not that this is a throwaway at all. “Dr. Stangeluv” is jangly and new age, utilizing instruments as varied as wind chimes, a cow bell, and a vibraslap, all as part of the massive wall of sound. You might miss them if you don’t listen closely but if you removed them, the jenga tower would fall.
”Silently”: “Silently” is a dance number. Critics have even gone so far as to call it ABBA played through a shoegaze microphone. I suppose I can hear it now but only did so after they mentioned it. It is definitely as light a number as Blonde Redhead have ever done. However, there’s a heavy bass beat, a wicked bass line, pluck guitars, and shakers, and it all gets under your skin, And then there’s the ethereal vocals that float and flit above it all, as if a mist that divides and subdivides and comes back together, like a living, loving mass. Wow.
”23”: Ermagard! This track is just so awesome! As an opening number, you could do no better. Those synths at the beginning that almost sound like church bell gongs morph into delicious washes. The rhythm is relentless, making it impossible to tell where the machine ends and the drummer begins. There are so many effects and loops that the layers of guitar hint at an army of them rather than just the two. And Kazu Makino’s vocals are wonderful here, delicate yet bold, filling every space not already clogged up by the rest of noise. This is a tune built for earphones and rocking out in your own head.
For the rest of the albums in this list, check out my Best Albums page here.