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.
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