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If you Google “Kazu Makino interview,” the first thing that pops up is a YouTube video of the Blonde Redhead guitarist-singer talking about how she doubts her own existence. “I often have a hard time feeling like I’m alive,” Makino says. “I often feel a little bit detached or quite separated from everything else around, so whatever makes me feel alive, that’s important to me. I think that’s one of the reason I play music … certain moments you feel really alive.”

If you’ve ever seen the band, which also includes twin brothers Amedeo (guitar/vocals) and Simone (drums) Pace, then you know their live show are anything but pallid — Makino and Amedeo, who are an item, riff off of each like two magnets of the same polarity being forced toward one another, wobbling back and forth, fighting to stay together, while Simone, somehow both stoic and savage at the same time time, methodically beats the fucking life out of his drum kit. It’s a teeth-gnashing performance, even when they’re performing their softer material, and makes you feel like you’re living in a universe they’ve conceived.

The band’s origin story is seemingly almost too precious to be real: Two Japanese female art students (Makino and former bassist Maki Takahashi) meet Italian gourmand twins while living in New York City and form noisey art rock band that gary release two LPs (Takahashi is already gone for the second) that catapult them into their own indie stardom. But it’s not just the SY co-sign, or how meticulously and stylishly dressed each member of the trio is, it’s that they are constantly evolving their sound, which remains a definition-defying version of guttural. While working with Shelley, it means driving noise-rock with breathless shrieks and insane guitar harmonies. In the next stage of their career, they sign to Touch & Go and work with Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto, who unearths their ability to create even more focused grit.

Throughout that time, the band’s music had only hinted at certain emotions. Within the catalogue, Makino and Amedeo have written reciprocal love songs, but most of the band’s output is full of lyrical abstraction or nods to other out-there endeavors, like the work of Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini, whose work included a film called Salò, which is the cinematic interpretation of the Marquis De Sade’s 120 Days Of Sodom. It wasn’t until the band moved labels again, this time with 4AD (where they are currently signed) that “guttural” meant showing your insides. That first record was Misery Is A Butterfly, an album that was recorded after Makino had suffered severe facial injuries after being thrown off of and subsequently trampled by a horse. The band had already been experimenting with toning it down on the electronic-heavy Melody Of Certain Damaged Lemons, but it was after the tragedy that their sound took a hard turn toward stripped-down.

That constant stride to change will make up the heft of this examination of the band’s work. “Heft” is a great word to use when talking about Blonde Redhead because, on top of their eight studio full-lengths, the band often releases a companion EP or 7″ with an album, has participated in benefit records like Dark Was The Night and Makino’s own post-tsunami Japan benefit compilation We Are The Works In Progress, as well as crafted the score for Kevin McAlester’s 2008 documentary The Dungeon Masters. We’re only going to look at those eight proper albums, but some of those one-offs, like the “Vague”/”Jetstar” 7″ or Melody’s primarily French and Italian EP Melodie Citronique are some of their best work. The group has not put out an album since 2011, but even so, they will be headlining Quebec’s FME Festival at the end of August and Bloomslang Festival in Lexington, KY in September. Theirs is the kind of music that can make you feel alive.

Start the Countdown here.

Comments (20)
  1. this list is reminding me that I need to dig out my old Blonde Redhead albums and listen immediately.

  2. agreed on the best and worst, would probably quibble with some of the other placings. hope they do something new and get back to being awesome.

  3. I only own (and am only familiar with) four BR albums, but I am not going to let that stop me from suggesting 23 is underrated in this list, and that Penny Sparkle is in exactly the right place.

    • Agreed — 23 is very much underrated. I suppose I can agree with it not being #1, but it should definitely be in the top 3. “Silently”, “Dr Strangelove”, “23″, and “SW” would all be in my list of BR’s ten best songs.

    • Totally agree. I love 23 and was hugely let down by Penny Sparkle.

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  5. I love this band. I’ve never met a person in real life who had listened to them before. I’ve turned some people onto them, but I always figured this band was hugely obscure. Judging by the skimpy comment section, I guess they are. Misery is a Butterfly was my first Blonde Redhead album, and it’s still my favorite by a mile. I think 23 is hugely underrated. I also love Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, and “In Particular” in particular. (I swear I did that without thinking)

  6. You lost me at number 9

  7. Penny Sparkle is not their best… I once heard it compared to the xx demos. Not too far off, if you think about it, but there are still a few good songs. The lyrics verge on horrible sometimes on that album though.

    23 though, I have probably listened to even more than Misery. 23 is an excellent album and there is not a bad song on it, I believe.

    Leaving out the album with the bull and the self titled because I haven’t heard them, I ‘d go

    expression<penny sparkle<fake<23<melody<misery

  8. Here’s a band I barely knew existed – must go check them out asap.

  9. I’ve heard them all and you’re dead right– 23 is their 2nd best, and whoever wrote this (a) has highly questionable reasons for making it 2nd worst (wtf!) and (b) loves Sonic Youth/ hates perfect pop.

  10. (apols that’s in response to btrtbflo)

  11. why so much hate on Penny sparkle, i love that album, i know it’s not the best but it’s soo great, you guys just want loud guitars.

  12. For me ‘Penny Sparkle’ does definately the trick. It’s their best album to date and in fact, might even be my fav album of all time. I really like the valium-lush-sound and the lyrics that tear you apart. It’s one long painful goodbye. I has been the soundtrack of my break-up and has proven to be the most profound and faithfull companion i could ever have wished for. It’s poison and remedy at the same time. I think the album is darkly sublime (‘Oslo’, ‘Spain’, ‘Love or Prison’, ‘Black Guitar’, ‘Will there be Stars, Your Plants are Dead, … etc.. they are hauntingly beautiful) and i cannot imagine living without them anymore. I hope more of that sound is to come. Check her collaboration with Nosaj Thing (Blue/Eclipse) for it carries the same energy and it is really really hearbreakingly stunning.

  13. I really don’t like any of their albums made before 2000. They’re all a little too “Deerhoof”-sounding to me. But, I love their sound from the early aughts going forward.

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