BLONDE RED­HEAD Penny Sparkle (4AD)

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Tempos -

My re­la­tion­ship with Blonde Red­head has jumped a few lev­els in re­cent years. From the group’s in­cep­tion back in 1993, it has evolved from a raw band to pol­ished pro­fes­sion­als. The prob­lem, around the time of 2004’s

Mis­ery Is a But­ter­fly, was that the sound they cre­ated was too re­strained, fleet­ing, and un­re­mark­able for me. I as­sumed they wouldn’t pro­duce a disc that would hold up be­yond a few spins and moved on. Silly me. On the trio’s 2007 record 23, they switched out Gothic cham­ber pop for lush elec­tronic ar­range­ments, and Penny Sparkle finds them re­tain­ing that ap­proach but strip­ping the com­po­si­tions of ex­cess in­stru­men­ta­tion. The min­i­mal­ist mix is quite stun­ning: clean, lively drums are bal­anced by fuzzy key­board riffs and bass drones. Kazu Makino’s sen­sual voice some­times floats above these waves, and oc­ca­sion­ally sinks be­low, cre­at­ing an at­mos­phere that’s highly emo­tional yet hazy and in­tan­gi­ble. Amadeo Pace’s thin vo­cals don’t fare as well, but his few songs sup­ply a change of pace and evoke a strange sen­sa­tion that this is a mu­si­cal world in which men aren’t as equipped for sur­vival. Dig­ging for stand­out songs — out­side of the per­cus­sion-heavy opener, “Here Some­times,” per­haps — seems be­side the point. The real plea­sure is in spend­ing time in this world — a dream that’s al­ready half-for­got­ten, even as it un­spools. — Robert B. Ker

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