Can you believe it’s been 9 years since their last album, 2014’s “Barragan”, which I’m afraid to say didn’t make as much of a dint to my ears as some of their earlier work, like the outstanding “Misery Is A Butterfly” from 2004, which, in my opinion, is one of the greatest albums of the modern era. It captures what they do best…isolated melancholy, with a doomed romanticism. A desperate beauty reveals itself like an expanding flower as you fall through its never ending depths.
“Sit Down For Dinner” contains all the familiar elements of lonely isolation wrapped in a slightly more produced package making it a slightly more commercial product, the beauty of its surface belying the same aching isolation that they do so well. Take opener “Snowman”, or ‘no man’ Amadeo Pace has opened his heart to love and been hurt ‘the only time that you see a lovebird/Repeated by a mockingbird, why you still crying and how?/Live like a loner/Livе like a no man/Live like a snowman’, the image of the snowman perfectly holding the cold isolation of the song in its fragile and frosty mitten. It almost doesn’t matter what Kazu Makino is singing so much as the tone of her voice, which always seems to belie a resigned melancholy in those high breathy enunciations. “Kiss her, kiss her” is full of romantic sweeps and chord changes and an almost European piano refrain towards the end that reminds me of an Ennio Morricone film soundtrack, which may well be due to the two brothers Italian ancestry. “Not For Me” has a shuffling, almost alt country feel, but the off kilter backing vocals shift it into a focus about two souls who have drifted apart ‘I never wanted you to move…to a place that no one could find’ sings Pace, so resigned that the words often float into each other, like a litany. “Melody Experiment” is quite simply sublime, the droning synth lines drifting in and out like singing glasses, and the ascending and descending Beatles White album bass line, as Makino tracks a failing relationship ‘Stay away from here…don’t you feel in your bones/we are coming to the end of an era’.
While writing the album Makino took as her influence the book “The Year Of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion, which is about grief and loss upon the death of her husband. This influence is writ large on “Rest Of Her Life” as she repeats ‘the rest of her life/she walks without you’ over a simple acoustic guitar pattern overlaid with sympathetic backing vocals, the simplicity giving lines like ‘every day still talks to him’ a heartbreaking pathos. The same feelings are expressed through both the title songs that follow as she simply states ‘I know you’re tired of living/but dying is not so easy’ on part two.
“I Thought You Should Know” has the feel of Joy Division‘s “Atmosphere” played by U2 and Bob Dylan, it’s slow stately pace unfolding its tales of a stagnant relationship fading slowly into a troubled dream. “Before” concerns itself with the baggage that two people bring into a relationship from previous experiences ‘Once upon a time/was I a silent child seen it all before’. “If” is about accepting the contentment of living for the moment and not worrying about commitment and what it all means, ‘City nightlife/a day at a time/treating life with not much care’. “Via Savona” is the only instrumental on the album and it is achingly beautiful, with a simple piano figure and reverb laden strings joined by Makino‘s ooh’s and aah’s emoting over a minimalist dreamscape. The band have recorded two soundtracks in the past, and this experience has paid off.
I fell in love with Blonde Redhead the moment I heard them back in 2002, and like a lot of love affairs this feeling has wavered and fallen in time, and we have drifted, and I guess we’ve both had other affairs in that time (hi there John Grant!) but I’ve just fallen again like a lovesick teenager. It’s like a romantic 70’s soundtracks married to a Cohen nightmare, or a beautiful picturesque alpine mountain falling slowly into an abyss in slow motion – beautiful yet tragic, stately yet heart-breaking. It hurts so much but you can’t look away. Listening to Blonde Redhead is like drowning in honey, sweet but deadly.