Released 1995 on Smells Like Records
Reviewed by Dog 3000, 08/03/2004ce
2. Sciuri Sciura
3. Astro Boy
4. Without Feathers
6. Mama Cita
7. Swing Pool
8. Girl Boy
Kazu Makino - vocals & guitar
Amadeo Pace - vocals & guitar
Simone Pace - drums
Maki Takahashi - bass
Comprised of two Japanese art students and two twin brothers from Italy who met up in New York City, Blonde Redhead in their original quartet incarnation were very much under the influence of "Sister" era Sonic Youth. The comparisons are even more inevitable since Youth drummer Steve Shelley produced their debut and released it on his own label, Smells Like Records.
But hey, what's wrong with there being more bands like Sonic Youth in the world? In fact I give this band a lot of credit for building on the foundations of their idols; Amadeo & Kazu have a great knack for pulling melodies out of oceanic waves of overtone & drone, making their songs far more poppy than anything Youth has ever done, but without sacrificing one iota of the skrrrzzzzzzz. They also have a distinctly jazz edge to them, with lots of 6th and 7th chords reinforced by Simone's swinging work on the drum kit. Maki's punchy hypnotic basslines also help keep things rolling in a rare groove direction. The non-native speakers singing emotively in heavily accented and nearly broken English also give the songs a sense of directness while remaining mysterious. When you can make out a phrase, it's usually something primal and right to the point, as in the title of the first track . . .
"I Don't Want U" starts the album off strong with a heavy "jazz" groove and tinkle-plinkle dabs of guitar colour that have an effect similar to Zawinul or Hancock on an early electric Miles record. Amadeo screams "I don't want YOU?!?!" most torturedly for a couple verses, interspersed with a Sonic Blastoff riff. Kazu sings the last verse over a rising tide of gorgeous guitar noize in a breathy child-like voice, then she's screaming "I don't want yoooouuu!!" right back over a bracing breakdown of funky dissonance.
"Sciuri" kicks off with a slamming 2-note bassline, more jazzy chords and Kazu's whispery chanting of the Italian title (whatever it means), rising slow motion melodic arpeggios over seas of feedback.
"Astro Boy" begins with big chiming guitars (straight offa "Sister"), Amadeo & Kazu trade off lyrics and screams almost buried under the vortex . . . then it all but stops for gentle guitar plinking that gradually builds up into another SY-otic maelstrom.
"Without Feathers" has all the same features as the rest of their songs, Sonically speaking, but it's a totally forgettable tune.
"Snippet" is a great little instrumental that drifts between jazzy introspective mood moments and the roar of the Sonic Ocean.
"Mama Cita" seems to have a sort of Euro-folk beat, like what I imagine the peasants danced to in the hills of old rural Italy . . . only filtered through "no wave" punk rock.
"Swing Pool" sounds very much like a dramatic mid-90's Sonic Youth song, another perfectly good effort but also another case where it seems the Influence is right out in front and there's not enough to make it truly distinctive.
The brief final tune "Girl Boy" sounds very much like Astrud Gilberto singing a Jobim tune! Another influence jumps to the fore, and hey now it occurs to me Kazu really is the punk rock version of Astrud and a lot of that vaguely "jazzy" stuff they do may be a twist on bossa nova & tropicalia!
A damn neat record and a fine example of what happens when creative musicians interpret the music of other cultures, and what a wonderful culture clash this record is! (Only in New Yawk baby . . . )
Their second self-produced album "La Mia Vita Violenta" was also released on Smells Like, and is almost as good (a bit perkier on the whole, not quite as Oceanic -- but if you like the first one, get the second one too.) By that time Maki had quit (she and Chris Leo formed duo The Lapse, a group that made two great beatnik-art-pop-noise-punk records around the turn of the century -- though for some reason she now goes by the name Toko Yasuda?! Anyway her latest group is called Enon.) Blonde Redhead has remained a trio ever since.
I was so disappointed with their dry & brittle "capital-A ART" third album "Fake Can Be Just As Good" that I stopped following them at that point, though I've read that some of their more recent records are supposed to be good. But in my opinion it's the self-titled debut that is the overlooked and Unsung near-classic.