1. Misery Is A Butterfly (2004)
If you dropped the needle down too hard on a vinyl copy of Misery Is A Butterfly, the songs might break. The album is the sonic version of a porcelain doll, and its origin story comes with the same kind of fragility. Perhaps discounting certain bits of Melody, up to this point, Blonde Redhead’s catalogue is wholly visceral. Here, however, their epicureanism becomes much more delicate – restrained beauty, stilted climaxes, embedded with a heartbreaking story about being betrayed by your favorite thing. In 2003, Makino was thrown off of a horse and trampled underneath it. The injuries she suffered were monumental. Half of her face was disfigured, the hoof slamming far enough in to make an impression on her brain, and she required a complete facial reconstruction. Adding to the tragedy, she needed to relearn how to sing. Following her recovery, the band produced an album that opens with an eerie lullaby, “Elephant Woman.” While it’s not explicit, the song poetically recounts the accident and, no doubt, the title is in reference to the tale of disfigurement The Elephant Man. It gives horror a gorgeous sheen and the album continues to ascend with cascading euphoria – Makino’s voice soars over haunting keys on “Melody” and the title track; Amedeo delivers warped riffs and porcelain-punk with “Falling Man”; and together on “Pink Love,” they lure out the album’s most romantic landscape: swirling and sumptuous, breathy and bass-heavy, and when Makino sings, “storms of petals are pouring down,” you can actually conjure the blooms. It would still be an exquisite record if it ended with the cut’s soft fade-out, but its concluding track, “Equus,” is what makes this Blonde Redhead’s greatest musical achievement. The song is the total opposite of “Elephant Woman,” a thumping laudation to the animal who got us here in the first place. It’s also Guy Picciotto’s swan song as BRH’s producer, and he pushes them to deliver a song that doesn’t quite fit in a damask-print wallpaper-covered room like the rest of the album, the synergy of his signature bite and Butterfly’s haunted house whimsy. The lyrics yearn for the equine, Makino’s pinning almost kicking you in the gut. Call it Stockholm Syndrome or a healthy expurgation of past hurt, but whatever it is, it’s the perfect cap on the finest collection of music the band has ever made.