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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Blonde Redhead
Misery is a Butterfly

Rating: 9/10 ?

October 1, 2004
For me, a new album from Blonde Redhead is like the arrival of the carnival. It is the talk of the town, with brimming hope and grown adults bubbling with childlike wonder. Excitement is in the air, and the rest of the world stops to make way for magic. This is precisely the fanciful environment they create upon every visit, and Misery is a Butterfly is yet another reason for brazenly colored enthusiasm.

While it shares elements of rest of their beloved catalog, awash in the splendidly strange, Misery is a Butterfly benefits from the dichotomy of its title: if Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons peered from the perspective of sadness, then this newest offering allows despair to fly away on painted wings. Like the cabaret, it is dramatic, skewed and foreign-sounding, but focuses more on the comic mask than one of inescapable tragedy.

We are first enticed to "step right up" by the opening "Elephant Woman," which immediately states its contention for favored track. Beginning with a stifling, off-kilter electronic orchestra, it hums like classic His Name is Alive, and allows Kazu to beautifully chant, hiccup and breathe her worldly expressions over the tension. It sizzles and sparkles like a celebratory firecracker, and while you're drawn to get closer, it is almost too hot to touch. It is hard to tell if she is hurt, bitter or courageous, and the ambiguity is addictively mysterious. To be sure, the track begins matters on an operatic level. Sweeping drama is skillfully balanced with a natural sweetness; while Blonde Redhead undoubtedly champion a grandiose scale, their sincerity reassures us that this is the album they'd been waiting to make. It is larger than life, but allows life its own rightful greatness.

My personal fondness for Kazu's airy, exotic voice notwithstanding, "Elephant Woman" should grace any best of 2004 compilation you are planning to make, which is, of course, no small feat in the month of March.

As a companion to her vocal chops, Amedeo has honed his characteristic straightness as well. Admittedly, he is less nasal in this release, instead sounding like a flat horn section and working well as an instrument throughout the album. On "Doll is Mine", he unthinkably steals the show. Quite possibly the most contagious and wildly loopy track of the album, he slides and whines his way between phantom lounge and cracked asylum. When he carelessly tosses words like, "I must have sinned/ too much skin" over his bare shoulder, then careens into the yowling repetition of, "Mine! Mine!", we can hear the tortured unrest behind the rebellious smile. His vocals have finally found a place where they are most fitting, and stand as yet another piece that has come together. Whereas in their previous works the harmonic responsibility rested almost solely on Kazu, Amedeo contributes more on Misery is a Butterfly, and to sharp, equalizing effect.

The band is definitely working together, having gilded themselves as a stronger collaboration of their parts. Here, there is no real competition, and even as the vocal spotlight shifts, the two are substantially more complementary. With sighing background accompaniment and skillful restraint, they have improved upon their already incredible ability to cross the tightrope. There is a bizarre subtlety amid the swirling lights and hypnotic messages, which suits their quiet intelligence as the band plays louder. If Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons was thematic and exaggerated, Misery is a Butterfly is skillfully layered - gloriously over-the-top, but also inside and beneath it. As bawdy ringleaders, they give you the show, but cleverly display the world behind it and dare you to decide which is more cunning.

"Pink Love" retains the honor of being the most striking song, using the element of surprise to shake the album and the listener to their very core. After the rest of the album has wallowed in ostentatious dramatic tension, trapeze acts, and carnivorous wildlife, it stops such loud momentum in its tracks with a dense retrospective of dream pop. True, the group has moved to the seminal label 4AD for this release, but we hardly expected them to pay such dazzling homage. Its placement at the end of the album is as adventurous as it is unsettling, though it firmly cements the greatness that has led to this point. "Pink Love" sounds almost exactly like a lost Cocteau Twins track, conjuring the heightened nerve of "Know Who You Are at Every Age" with the seeking, hazy frustration of "Sugar Hiccup". What with the influx of IDM and the inspiration of My Bloody Valentine run amok in recent musical trends, "Pink Love" calls for a definite resurgence of dream pop atmosphere in its most opaque, gossamer forms. Gauzy and sophisticated, it's not afraid to leave rock behind for ethereal results, and the track sounds immensely inspired. As fans would expect, the entire album is achingly good. Trading in the gaudy effortlessness of their earlier work, we see the affect poured into Misery is a Butterfly, and it is staggering.

Reviewed by Sarah Peters
A former music editor and staff writer for LAS, Sarah Peters recently disappeared. Perhaps one day she will surface again, who knows.

See other reviews by Sarah Peters



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