Blonde Redhead: Penny Sparkle

Blonde Redhead: Penny Sparkle

B-

Blonde Redhead

Album: Penny Sparkle
Label: 4AD

After starting out as a scrappy no-wave band in the ’90s, Blonde Redhead began turning inward and ethereal in the ’00s, to good effect, climaxing with 2007’s gauzy, beautiful 23. Penny Sparkle, the New York trio’s eighth album, keeps moving in that direction, but it may be a step too far. The new songs have less of a guitar-drenched shoegaze feel and more of a late-’80s synth-melancholia one, and the results tend to be more vague than mysterious. Individually, the songs are well made, and close listening yields a nice amount of detail. For example, on “Not Getting There,” foggy organ, synth strings, a keyboard bassline that calls up industrial machinery, and shuffling hi-hats (Simone Pace’s drumming is like a straighter version of the late-’80s U.K. rock vogue for sampled breakbeats, a la The Stone Roses’ “Fools Gold”) and are all combined neatly beneath Kazu Makino’s arcing melody. But here as elsewhere, the band may have learned to sound like it was drifting off a little too well, because Penny Sparkle tends to glide away from the ear as it’s playing. The echo-laden production on “Everything Is Wrong,” in particular, swamps the song, which is built around an intriguingly off-kilter beat pattern, until it seems to cry uncle.