With each album since Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, Blonde Redhead has made huge strides forward with their sound. Misery Is a Butterfly pitted fragile melodies against dark, swirling arrangements, and its tragic glamour turned the album into a cult favorite. On 23, the band trades the cloistered chamber rock of Butterfly for tone-bending dream pop and subtle electronics; while the wide open spaces sound a little bare at first, this streamlined approach ends up making this Blonde Redhead's loveliest and most accessible work yet. The group begins each album with a bold statement of purpose, and 23 is no different. The epic title track's delicate electronic rhythms, swooping, shimmering guitars, and majestically bittersweet melody pitch it somewhere between My Bloody Valentine and Asobi Seksu, showing how a more restrained Blonde Redhead can still sound lush and haunting. "Spring and Summer by Fall"'s streaming, comet-tail guitars and "Silently"'s thorny melody hark back to Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, while "Heroine"'s vocoders sound surprisingly fresh, giving the song a fairy tale-meets-sci-fi vibe. This more whimsical, if not exactly lighthearted, feel flows through much of 23, especially on "Dr. Strangeluv," which boasts playful percussion and sparkling synths, and "Top Ranking," which layers Kazu Makino's vocals into futuristic girl group harmonies. However, Blonde Redhead hasn't ditched the brooding beauty of Misery Is a Butterfly entirely. "The Dress" is just as darkly stunning as any song on that album, with looping gasps and insistent guitars circling lyrics like "the fear starts creeping up when you have so much to lose," while "SW"'s melody and psychedelic brass interlude have a Butterfly-esque intensity. And as always, Blonde Redhead has a flair for haunting melodies, particularly on "Publisher," the chorus of which sounds peculiarly like Aerosmith's "Dream On." 23 is stunning -- in fact, its only flaw might be that its track listing is a little top-heavy, resulting in an album with an amazing first half and a flip side that is only very good. Nitpicking aside, 23 is mysterious and modern, with an artfully strange beauty that is more memorable than perfection.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares