Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Sound of Dreaming

Working silly hours lately has kept me away from this blog and from sleep as well. I did manage, however, to fall asleep the other night, with ear buds in, listening to the new record by New York's Blonde Redhead. My musical somnolence was induced not by a lack of interest, but by both fatigue and precisely the dreamy quality of this most excellent rock record.

Blonde Redhead comprises Kazu Makino (guitar and vocals) and twin brothers Amedeo (guitar and vocals) and Simone (drums) Pace, who formed in 1993 as acolytes of Sonic Youth. They are a band that I have been aware of for the past few years, but one I failed to dive into until the release of their new record 23. I understand that their earlier records may bear closer witness to the Daydream Nation, but from the sound of 23, this band has evolved into its own.

And a unique sound it is. My first impression was that they remind me in no small measure of one of my favorite esoteric bands of the 80s, Cocteau Twins, albeit (to paraphrase Joe Strummer) with guitars! There similarities are several. Kazu's bright vocals have a delicate, ethereal quality, and in her other-worldly soprano, the lyrics skitter back and forth across the line of intelligibility. This in no way detracts from the music, but rather adds to the mysterious character of the songs. (Remember how much fun you had back in the day trying to figure out what Michael Stipe was singing about?)

The songs really do have a dream-like quality in that the structures are familiar enough and the chord progressions logical enough that nothing sounds bizarre, but the melodies, shimmering instrumentation (see Cocteau Twins), and liberal use of minor chords are just strange enough to keep you slightly off-balance. The overall production is lovingly meticulous, which results in a certain sameness in the sound of the songs, but that sort of seems to be the point. The dreamy mood of the record is consistent throughout, which is satisfying. In many respects, this music is evocative of those strange 80s movie soundtracks by Tangerine Dream.

Ultimately, even though this record is just off-kilter enough that nothing is especially "catchy," I still have had a difficult time switching over to something else on the iPod. It is the essence of a record that reveals itself over repeated listenings, and I for one am looking forward to working my way backwards through their catalog. Check out the title track "23" -- maybe while you're lying down with your eyes closed.

MP3: Blonde Redhead -- "23" from 23

Note: Blonde Redhead will be at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta on May 4.