If music could be compared to artistic paintings, New York band Blonde Redhead’s songs would be watercolors. The blue shades of psychedelic dark thought mix with red-colored angst and creep into black surroundings. One of the most interesting groups to ever visit the KEXP studios, I’ve personally seen them argue before two live radio performances. At one point, lead singer Kazu disappeared just when the group was about to go on air, leaving a panicked band, radio host and engineer to wonder if she’d return. Eventually she did, and the show went on. This tension is in their music, which makes it interesting. Honest. And the beauty in their best songs is not only about texture, but about emotive lyrics and great, hypnotic hooks.
This group met by coincidence in 1993 at an Italian restaurant in New York city. Italian twin brothers Simone and Amedeo Pace and Japanese art students Maki Takahashi and Kazu Makino worked quickly, writing songs and trying textures. They took the name “Blonde Redhead” from a DNA song. They were inspired by movie soundtracks and gritty-sounding underground bands from the city. Kazu’s vocals sounded like drops from a wrung-out heart and startling percussion punctuated dreamy guitar and keys. They put out their first record (a self-titled debut, with help from Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley) in 1994. Shortly after the release, Takahashi left the band.
Over the next few albums, Blonde Redhead balanced chaos with melody, and finally found their signature sound on the 2003 record, Misery Is a Butterfly:
An even better record was 2007’s 23, which took a step further into the psychedelic haze, but somehow came through with memorable hooks that haunt you for days. The title track is the best. “23” is singer Kazu’s lucky number.
Their latest album, Penny Sparkle, came out in 2010, and finds the band a bit more stripped-down. It’s not quite as good as 23, but definitely admirable.
Blonde Redhead play Neumo’s Sunday, June 26.
Michele Myers spins every Saturday on KEXP from 3-6pm. Every week she brings you a featured Saturday Afternoon Artist and plays several songs in-a-row from them. She also is the producer/creator of KEXP Documentaries.