Blonde Redhead - Penny Sparkle
Dominic Valvona 02/10/2010
As though blown in on a diaphanous breath, from some empyreal realm, the New York trio of Blonde Redhead deliver something akin to a vapour trail, rather then an album. If Penny Sparkle were a shape it would be a sphere, albeit one constructed from ether, as there are no tangible edges or solid delineate reference points to cling on to.
Instead we are entranced and wrapped up in countless waves of ethereal dreamy layers, caressed by multiple sweeping vocals, as Kazu Makino emerges from the indolent rippling background accompaniment. She dutifully coos and swoons, occasionally flanked by the more forlorn sounding Amedeo Pace.
Named after the horse that Kazu learnt to ride on, Penny Sparkle is richly lavished with pulchritude and a drifting sense of translucence. Throughout this sophomore suite of songs they sail close to the sound of Beach House, though to be fair Blonde Redhead have been going since the early 90s, so its probably the other way around. Opener 'Here Sometimes' really draws comparisons with the swells and feyness of Victoria Le Grand, lost in a sea of shoe-gazing escapism.
This, their 9th studio album, was recorded between both New York and Stockholm, produced by the Scandinavian duo of Van Rivers and The Subliminal Kid, who've added a touch of Fever Ray atmospherics and Swedish aloof electro coolness to the band's sound. They've also thrown in some Moroder-esque oscillating and cyclonic synthesizer backing and floating cinematic ambience into the pot, especially on the seraph chanteuse led 'Not Getting There' - one of the LP's more emotive and stark songs.
Amedeo's voice rambles and sweetly soothes on a few tracks - The Cars-evoking 80s re-appraisal of 'Will There Be Stars' and his shared duties on the stirring malady 'Black Guitar' dolefully sound enchanting, almost lost in the swirling melodies.
The lyrical content at times may seem a tad vague, with even Kazu admitting that she had no idea what the album was actually about, though in the press release she has added notes for each track. There does seem to be the theme of Kazu's horses, Penny Sparkle on which she took lessons, and then later with the song 'Black Guitar' she sings a lament to a horse that she later bought who nearly went blind but recovered. Mainly though the lyrics merely act as a starting point, and are more importantly adhered to because of their cadence and rhythmic qualities.
To be fair there's hardly an uninspired moment to be found amongst the ten tracks, whether it's the sublime romanticised leanings or sophisticated taut beats and subtle simple basslines or the soundscapes evocative of Portishead, bedecked with alluring panache that draws you into their hypnotic whirlpool. This is a quite a breathlessly dream-like listen, perfect for reflective times.