In only 30 seconds--which starts simply with slow, echo-y synth chords quickly followed by a catchy drum hook and some shoe gazer guitar--Blonde Redhead's 23 is completely entrancing. Then Kazu Makino's willowy rasp joins the sonic fray and devours any possible chance of escape.
Named for Makino's favorite number, Blonde Redhead's seventh studio album displays a band at the top of its prowess. The Italian twin brothers and Japanese art student who met in New York City and named themselves after a song by a '70s No Wave band have transcended their art-punk roots and mastered a sound all their own.
An atmospheric collage of layer upon layer and hook after hook, 23 succeeds because of its simplicity. Even in its moments of dramatic gushing, as in "The Dress," in which staccato guitars and keyboards build toward a climatic floating chorus explosion that falls back into itself, the songs maintain a skillful balance between emotion and craftsmanship.
Blonde Redhead was moving in this direction with their last album, Melody Of Certain Damaged Lemons, in 2003. Their first release on 4AD, the UK label that released the music of Cocteau Twins and The Pixies, Melody added many fans to the band's already solid indie base.
Mostly self-produced--they had the help of Mitchell Froom for "Silently" and "Top Ranking"--the band was able to write songs more spontaneously, allowing for surprising juxtapositions. "Heroine" pairs bouncy chirp-like whistles with a haunting refrain sung by Makino. "My Impure Hair" joins slacker space-pop with otherworldly twang.
The 45 minutes on 23 sound composed for a sweeping 21st-century film score that needs no film because the music is epic enough. Intimate, ethereal and cerebral, this is Blond Redhead's breakout album. • Katy Henriksen