Blonde Redhead - Barragán | Album Review | By Volume

What is this life, why do we strive? Fast on a wheel, too fast to feel. One day, my love, this life will slow. Sam Brookes - One Day
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Blonde Redhead


Ultimately a bit dull.

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Author: on September 9, 2014
Asawa Kuru
September 2, 2014

I remember when I fell in love with Blonde Redhead. Scrounging through an older cousin’s album collection, I found their record stacked, unsurprisingly so, next to the recently pillaged Daydream Nation and Sister. Those are two of the best records, ever, and thematically they’re not all too different from Blonde Redhead’s initial five albums. In their first incarnation, the band walked a line that at times looked eerily similar to that which Sonic Youth were currently paving the way for. Simply put, they looked like imitators following just close enough in tow of the trailblazers to reap the benefits of their table scraps. In retrospect, this summation is kind of horseshit. Their first two records were produced but Steve Shelley, SY’s exceptional drummer and released on his label Smells Like Records. It felt like unfair criticism then, and now reeks of hypocrisy. Blonde Redhead were and remain one of the most adventurous and fearless bands of the past twenty-five years – it just took a while for them to get into a solid stride.

Their debut and its aforementioned follow-up La Mia Vita Violenta still possess the charm of a band trying to find their legs, but their third album, Fake Can Be Just as Good, was not only their first real turn into the lush sonics that would define the rest of their career, but cheekily gave all those detractors a flippant fuck-off as the band moved farther and farther from their no wave roots. Their move to Touch & Go records didn’t deter the band from making the music they wanted to, as opposed to what their critics may demand of them for approval. Fast forward, the trio moves to 4AD and once again reinvents themselves between a trio of their best albums, working within the realms of shoegaze , alt-rock, J-pop, garage rock and finely-trimmed minimalist pop, peaking with their ode-to-dream pop 23.

I bring you this mini-history lesson to set a scene of sorts for the veteran band’s ninth outing, Barragán, an album that is tiringly mundane, but possibly the quintessential Blonde Redhead album. It’s fearless. It’s uncompromising and it’s melodic, almost to a fault, and at the same time unlike anything else Blonde Redhead have created yet. Barragán feels a messy experiment in Baroque pop for the band and a continuation of Penny Sparkle’s tempered aesthetic. Yet unlike their previous album, Barragán drags you down, void of nearly all Blonde Redhead’s talent with hooks. The album only runs forty-one minutes at ten tracks, yet feels like an honest trek to get through. Even at their most unforgiving, Blonde Redhead have never been this boring. Which essentially is what makes the album, well, a drag. It’s difficult to get through, and not in a musical-exploration way — at least for this listener. That said, I do feel that Barragán is a precursor to something new and great from the band; this is such a strange place for them to have gone, yet it feels right at this point in their career. After twenty years making music together, plus a particularly hectic first half-decade, it’s easy to understand Blonde Redhead dialing the noise back a bit. Barragán feels an album fit for a music hall or amphitheater, not so much a dingy club or festival grounds.

Part of me feels like the Pace twins and Kazu Makino aren’t too worried about keeping themselves out of dive bars in their forties – songs like the far-too-long duo of “Mine to be Had” and “Defeatist Anthem (Harry and I)” aren’t barn-raisers by any means. But most of Barragán seems uncertain of what it is or what it wants to be. “Dripping” is a melodic, uniquely engrossing song helmed by Simone Pace that feels like a quality left-over from the Misery Is Butterfly sessions and is a gem on Barragán, but feels pretty alien to rest of the tracklist. The aforementioned “Mine to be Had” and “Defeatist Anthem” are eight and six minutes respectively yet feel like mini-lifetimes. They are constructed in movements, but you’ll be hard pressed to do more than drift in and out of their songs as their flutter about your consciousness. A lot of Barragán reads like this though, and part of me wonders if the band themselves view this record as a bit of a testing pool for various musical experiments they’ve wanted to make over the past two decades. Which in the end makes a pretty dull record but bodes well for their future. At nine records into their career, I think we can grant them a mulligan and hope this artistic cleanse leads to more exceptional output from a band we needn’t really expect more from at this point. Blonde Redhead have already given us enough, it’s just disappointed that Barragán doesn’t offer up much of anything at all.

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