Blonde Redhead

Barragán

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For over two decades, Blonde Redhead have made a career of channeling their experiments into music that's different than what came before, yet unmistakably theirs. Penny Sparkle's hushed electronics -- an equal and opposite reaction to 23's maximalist shoegaze -- made for an album that felt like a dream that couldn't quite be recalled upon waking. But instead of turning up the volume again, Barragán barely rises above a whisper. With the help of producer/engineer Drew Brown, Kazu Makino and brothers Simone and Amadeo Pace explore a stripped-down sound that's something of a risk, considering that the band's other reinventions focused on dense sonics. Though the band's ninth album is often quiet, it's never muted. Barragán's songs have more spark than Penny Sparkle, and their nakedness is just as thrilling as the lavishness of previous peaks like 23 and Misery Is a Butterfly. "Dripping"'s fragmented beats and synths coalesce into dreamy yet propulsive electro-pop that lets its silences be just as vital and beautiful as the music itself. Meanwhile, "No More Honey" focuses on Makino's alternately caressing and aloof vocals and elastic guitars -- which convey all of shoegaze's psychedelic sensuality with half the distortion -- with such hip-swaying confidence that it suggests Blonde Redhead's surreal touches are arguably even more stunning when they're laid bare. The album's motifs reveal themselves gradually: the title track drifts in on acoustic guitar, harpsichord, and flutes, casting a fairytale spell that feels radical and timeless; "Mind to Be Had" sets a winding, quintessentially Blonde Redhead melody to an unhurried motorik rhythm; and the wounded, wondering "Defeatist Anthem (Harry and I)" puts it all together to transporting effect. Thanks to the minimalist production values, Makino's one-of-a-kind voice is even more central on Barragán, most strikingly on the coyly sexy "Cat on Tin Roof," where her teasing vocals dance over some of the album's most powerfully spare instrumentation. Even in this incarnation, the band still conveys the highs and lows of (likely) star-crossed love like few others; airy chamber folk pieces like "The One I Love," "Penultimo," and "Lady M" all reflect the flowing beauty of their best work since the early 2000s. Just as poetic, mysterious, and bewitching as Blonde Redhead's more baroque albums, Barragán is a quietly audacious set of songs that ranks among the band's finest music.

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