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"Penny Sparkle"

Blonde Redhead – Penny Sparkle
16 September 2010, 12:00 Written by Andrew Grillo

Penny Sparkle is the eighth release by New York based dream-poppers Blonde Redhead and given that 2007′s 23 hinted at the potential for crossover success, you could be forgiven that this could be a fairly big album for them, but Blonde Redhead just aren’t that kind of band. Instead of straining for the big time they just go about their business, crafting superior electronica; drenched in reverb and melancholy, and this release finds no change on that front.

As ever Kazu Makino’s gorgeously sultry vocals are at the centre of everything, always commanding attention with a whisper rather than a shout. Opener ‘Here Sometimes’ opens with some typically rich imagery and the chorus finds her cooing “Now it’s day /and I am dreaming” with typically spaced out aplomb.

‘Will There Be Stars’ is one of a couple of tracks where Kazu takes a back seat and while these sections work well as a break, it always seems exactly that and you find yourself waiting for Makino to return.

This is music for the subconscious, perfect for the state between sleep and wakefulness. ‘Love or Prison’ again finds Kazu on blissful, downbeat form, and at times it is almost too easy not to recognise how perfectly placed every element is, they are a band who clearly know their sound buit always manage to avoid sounding as if they are on auto pilot.

In fact everything is so well done that at times the record just coasts by, which is it’s biggest strength and weakness. With such soporific splendour it is easy to take for granted but then after just a couple of listens you realise you already know the songs better than you have any right to – deft, subtle hooks the cause. At the same time it would be interesting to hear what would happen if they really did break off the shackles, it’s not that the tunes are unenergetic or uninspired, simply that sometimes it would be nice to really hear them topple over the edge and lose it.

After an imperious middle section, Penny Sparkle does peter out somewhat but overall this is a stronger more consistent work than 23, albeit one that is likely to maintain their position as influential elder statesmen and 4AD traditionalists rather than dragging in any new followers. Despite the strength of the record, their dedication to such sleepy atmospherics mean that they are likely to stay a niche act, while School of Seven Bells et al receive wider acclaim thanks to their somewhat more adventurous use of dynamics, but hey, you’d imagine Blonde Redhead are quite happy that way.

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