Given Blonde Redhead’s early experiments in the no wave movement and early noisy angular indie rock recordings for Steve (Sonic Youth) Shelly’s label, Smells Like, along with engagements with the cosmopolitan art scene in New York City where the band formed 30 years ago, it might be surprising that their tenth album is overflowing with richly melodic dream pop and lush beds of electronica, combined with acoustic guitars, keyboards and synths. The long collaboration of talents by Japanese multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Kazu Makino, and Italian twin brothers Amedeo and Simone Pace, also a singer and multi-instrumentalist, and a drummer, respectively, have brought together a variety of world music and cultural influences and interests in this mature, reflective 11 track collection.
Conceptually, the album’s title track and many of the themes are a response to the losses that come in adult life, and more recently as our culture experienced the pandemic shutdown. In author Joan Didion’s grief-driven memoir, “The Year of Magical Thinking,” she describes how her life changed when her husband died suddenly at the dinner table, writing that “Life changes in an instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.” In the two-part title track, Makino writes about the intrusion and distance required by the virus, then in the more rhythmic pop of “Part 2” she borrows lines from Didion and reflects on the thought that “I know you are tired of living/but dying is not so easy.” The curious juxtaposition of such heavy lyrics of loss with the light, poppy musical setting is a realization that life will continue to go forward, whatever we’ve experienced in the meantime.
Makino’s own grief over the death of her beloved horse, Harry, finds its way into “Rest of Her Life,” and the way grief can leave someone feeling like a “lost soul,” “dwelling in the past.” The opening track, “Snowman” is another where the musical setting, with an underpinning in Brazilian percussion, feels like it should be an up-tempo pop number, but it’s lyrics describe a person who lives “like a loner,” experiencing “only doubts,” sung by Amedeo Pace and Makino. Meanwhile “Kiss Her Kiss Her” is about missed opportunities, while “Not For Me” is about caring for another, wanting a “beautiful life” for them, even as they move “to a place that no one can find.”
“I Thought You Should Know” has rich choral harmonies, and while it begins with a lush bed of piano on a cloud of air, ultimately it reveals Blonde Redhead at its simplest and most accessible: an acoustic guitar folk ballad sung by Amedeo Pace. At the more sophisticated end of the musical spectrum, “Melody Experiment,” finds Makino singing around the more obvious dance rhythm and airy keyboards, drifting into Beach House territory. “If,” the penultimate track before the instrumental “Via Savona,” reflects back on a life “Living music in the air/Living lifestyles with a smile,” the trio of avant garde musicians satisfied with where they’ve landed after 30 years, ready to Sit Down to Dinner, come what may.
“Snowman” / “Melody Experiment” / “Kiss Her Kiss Her”
ARTISTS WITH SIMILAR FIRE
Kim Gordon / Beach House / Yo La Tengo