Blonde Redhead are a rare collective who disappear in regular spells, returning intermittently to build on their sound as it becomes more lavish with each release- until now.
‘Barragán’ (their ninth studio album) is a laconic suite that contains meshes of their previous work loosely threaded into a patchwork of new ideas, mood-altering derailments and respectful nods to their influences. The result is nothing short of brilliant.
As the album follows a sparse and darker direction the lush, bittersweet sound that has defined the band remains intact with glimmers of light poking through as they swerve in and out of minimally layered passages. A light intro leads into ‘Lady M’, in which over a slowly rolling drumbeat we hear a haunting take on how we had previously come to know Blonde Redhead. The floating vocals lead the rigid backing structure to create a paradox of sounds that provide a sense of what is coming up. Despite the mood, the album discreetly follows varied paths and jumps from simple bass and drums with scattering murmurs of guitar, to shuddering bursts that throw it all askew. ‘Dripping’ is funk stripped of any joy, slithering towards frustrated stabs of synth that serve to break it in half and stop the rhythm dead in its tracks - this is particularly telling of the album as a whole, each song appears to present something only to eventually implode within itself.
Subtle nods to influences appear but the band weaves them into their unique sound, avoiding mere pastiche. There are echoes of 4AD/Cocteau Twins on ‘No More Honey’, John Cale’s chamber pop in ‘The One I Love’ and the more Faust/Motorik movement of ‘Mind to Be Had’.
A sense of anxiety builds throughout the album as shifts are hinted towards, but never fully realised as it would only prove to follow too obvious a path. As the longer form of ‘Defeatist Anthem (Harry & I)’ peaks the pressure to boiling point, the aptly titled ‘Penultimo’ combined with the reflective closing credits of ‘Seven Two’ slowly crash the tension to a halt.
These are musicians who continue to stand alone and defy any type of pigeon-holing as they create music that is idiosyncratic, multi-faceted and adventurous. Some bands flounder later in their career by relying too heavily on familiar formulas. Blonde Redhead have avoided this by meticulously reshaping their sound to incorporate established elements and influences with a fresh sound and structure to design an exciting new approach. ‘Barragán’ exposes a different shade of the group that will ultimately ensure their longevity.
Blonde Redhead have dropped it all and started again.