Blonde Redhead: 23

Lay listeners can be forgiven if they hear "23," the title track from Blonde Redhead's seventh album (and its second for ethereal-rock standard-bearer 4AD) and think they stepped into a very English 1990 retread. The song isn't simply shoegaze redux, fitting perfectly with Ride, My Bloody Valentine, or Lush songs from the turn of the decade; it's even better than a lot of what that period drizzled out. Starting with a few hesitant, needling, gauzy keyboard chords, it soon dissolves to a loose-fitting drumbeat and slow-build guitar billow, with vocalist Kazu Mikano drifting through the mix. She sings the melody perfectly clearly, but the words are hard to understand—and beside the point. By the second verse, when the lead guitar becomes more pointed while the rhythm guitar turns blurrier and the drums pick up steam, "23" is clearly the kind of song that can leave its accompanying album behind.

That doesn't happen here, though. On 23, Mikano and her bandmates, twin brothers Amadeo and Simone Pace, keep moving a few steps away from their origins as a snappy neo-no-wave outfit, in a direction they've been heading since 2000's Melody Of Certain Damaged Lemons. The softer focus fits them exceptionally well. "The Dress" is a slow burner, neo-goth for sunny days; "Spring And By Summer Fall" revs up and down on a speedy, hi-hat-heavy beat and nervous two-note guitar pulse; "Silently" plays like a down-to-earth version of one of Kate Bush's wuthering heights. Alan Moulder produced 23, and it's obvious that the British boardsman—best known for his work on My Bloody Valentine's 1991 giant-gouging-guitar masterpiece Loveless, as well as albums by the Jesus & Mary Chain and Swervedriver—has had some impact here. But however much Moulder helps in getting Blonde Redhead the muddy definition it craves, the impetus is clearly the group's own, and they make plenty of it.

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