After nearly a decade of steady growth, Blonde Redhead established itself as one of the most distinctive voices in indie rock with 2000's Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons. From the beginning, the band's music had an alien quality, partly derived from No Wave, that was balanced with fragility and vulnerability; this combination came to a head on 2004's Misery Is a Butterfly, which dealt with vocalist Kazu Makino's near-fatal riding accident. The delicate balance of these two feelings continues on 23, each tempered by the other. This flawed but exciting album is more accessible than any other in the band's discography. Makino and Amedeo Pace sing with greater ease and confidence than ever before.
23 may be Blonde Redhead's smoothest and least challenging record, but it is also its most self-assured. For example, “Silently” and “Top Ranking,” with their singable choruses and bouncy production, sound almost commercial next to the band's early work. “The Dress,” on the other hand, is just as pretty, but also delightfully uncanny, thanks to Makino's masterful whisper. Two driving, loud (for Blonde Redhead) tracks, “SW” and “Spring and by Summer Fall,” anchor the album's ethereal pop, while the title track uses bent chords to destabilize it, creating a sense of vertigo. Whatever its intentions at any particular moment, however, the album is always understated, patient and beautiful. One gets the feeling that, with 23, Blonde Redhead has decisively shifted its focus from the distinctive and esoteric to the urbanely enjoyable. Then again, perhaps that was the band's intention all along.
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