Bands that make their fans wait almost four years for new material best make sure they make the wait worthwhile. In the case of New York City’s Blonde Redhead, fans hoping that the band would revive the loud, pumping, distorted indie-rock sounds it produced in the early-nineties may be let down to hear mellower, artier bits coming from their favorite band on Misery is a Butterfly, the band’s first proper full-length since 2000’s Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons.
The band’s undergone three label changes since forming in 1993. In 1997, they shifted from Smells Like Records, which released the trio’s anxious and tense brand of noise punk, to Chicago’s Touch & Go Records, home to Enon and Calexico’s more subtle and sublime schemes. On 2000’s Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, Blonde Redhead abandoned its usual distorted Sonic Youth-esque guitar screechings for a record based fundamentally on acoustic guitar, pianos and percussions. These drastic transitions could explain why Blonde Redhead has yet to be grouped into any mainstream category. But what listeners they do attract follow the band with cult-like voraciousness.
After a long hiatus (largely due to singer Kazu Makino’s horse-riding accident in 2002), Blonde Redhead has switched record companies again, now calling 4AD/Beggars Group home. The NYC-based indie label spawned Misery is a Butterfly, Blonde Redhead’s much awaited album. Misery picks up where Melody left off but dares to delve into some darkly romantic territory, both musically and lyrically.
And this band isn’t afraid to test their creative levels to the limit.
Throughout, the band’s mournful economy of style is adorned by a cinematic scope of instrumentation. Although the lyric writing is split as usual between Makino and guitarist/vocalist Amedeo Pace, the rich complexity of arrangements creates a striking and convincing unity of purpose. With its isolated and brooding moodiness, Misery could easily mirror Suede’s Dog Man Star and Goldfrapp’s Felt Mountain.
Misery is rarely straightforward or absent of imagination, though Pace’s and Makino’s singing, while it allows the emotion in the songs to slip out unpretentiously, can wear nerves by the record’s end. That aside, Blonde Redhead’s handiwork is definitely worth a first, second, or third listen. And although older fans may not be keen on the band’s concentration in somber art music, they can at least appreciate Blonde Redhead‘s boundless ingenuity.