For a band whose very name implies contradiction, not until the release of the New York City trio's latest album has Blonde Redhead truly embodied the paradoxical spirit of its moniker. The group of immigrant musicians -- twin brothers guitarist/vocalist Simone and drummer Amedeo Pace from Italy and guitarist/vocalist Kazu Makino from Japan -- had previously shown considerable influence from contemporary American noise-drone vanguard acts like Sonic Youth and Unwound. However, on their latest and most impressive album to date, they seem to have found a unique sound of their own, which blends occasionally conflicting elements of Europop, New York art rock, '60s radio hits, and Beatles-esque major-to-minor chord progressions, not to mention a lyrical approach that recalls the experimental and existential themes of French New Wave films.
Produced by Fugazi singer/guitarist Guy Picciotto and Ryan Hadlock of Bear Creek Studios in Seattle (popularized by Black Heart Procession's powerfully rich, simple sounds) Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons makes greater use of traditional pop music themes. There's much more emphasis upon percussion (especially handclaps), waltz and tango rhythms, analog synthesizers, and bright, clean guitar tones. The album opens with a brief waltzing intro of a flutelike keyboard sound on "Equally Damaged," which suddenly dashes into a chirping, amorphous squall before jumping directly into the syncopated rhythms, smoky keyboards, and helium-voiced whisper of Makino on "In Particular." The simultaneously spooky, seductive, and stomping song shows just how far the band has come since its strong, but two-dimensional, previous album, In an Expression of the Inexpressible.
The strongest hook of "Hated Because of Great Qualities" is Makino's waifish wail, which guides and encourages the stop-and-go blurting guitars over a throbbing backbeat. The chorus splashes in with a wave of pianos, ringing guitars, and chromatic chord shifts as Makino's voice slinks over the top, singing: "I can't understand this at all/ I can't pronounce this at all." Switching into "Loved Despite of Great Faults," the juxtaposed lyrical theme features a stilted waltz drumbeat, twangy guitars, and an eruptive chorus reminiscent of the Turtles classic "So Happy Together." As an ascending countermelody between the clean and ringing guitars builds, Simone sings, "You will move with me/ We will/Stay still/ And words will move around us." Boldly stepping away from its derivatives of indie-rock swirl into a fine combination of cheery synth-pop, electro-jolts, and airy melodies, Blonde Redhead has fully embraced its contradictions.
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