In many cases, moving from experimental music toward the mainstream, in however small an increment, can be disastrous. Fans turn against you, critics slam your lack of principle, and fans you might gain will generally only engage you cursorily, abandoning you as soon as the next Modest Mouse release trundles along.
Not so Blonde Redhead, at least as far as I can tell. Their new release, 23, has been a grower for me.
To be fair, I've only recently come around to Blonde Redhead. While there have been tracks that have clicked with me and I've seen them do some solid shows, it wasn't until I saw them open for Interpol and gave Misery Is a Butterfly a really close listen that I felt like I was getting it. And then, of course, wandering through their back catalog brings about all sorts of epiphanies and rewards.
23, though, for all its change in tone and structure and its migration toward the middle, has really grabbed me. From the outset, the title track puts Kazu Makino's ethereal vocals at the fore of the mix, which is a good thing. The strong, spacey melodies they've developed their songs around for this record swath her voice in a cozy nest of sound, both nurturing her breathiness and strengthening her enunciations. It's a fantastic balance, made stronger by the sturdiness of the tunes.
Perhaps the new sound is a result of the change in producer, as no shift from Guy Picciato (of Fugazi) to Alan Moulder (producer for U2, NIN, and the friggin Smashing Pumpkins) could go by unnoticed. But it's not just the sound; the songs have shifted as well, focusing more on the flow and fluidity of each song and melody more than the breaking down of those things.
The record is largely midtempo, and while Amedeo Pace does get some time at lead, neither small shifts in tone nor a different singer break the mood of the whole.
If you've already come to love Blonde Redhead, this album might be a shock to your system. But accept that bands evolve and change--and that this very well may not be where BR stays--and you will no doubt enjoy this. And if you're new to the band, this is an accessible inroad to their music. Start here and work backward.