Key Tracks: “Dripping” “Defeatist Anthem (Harry and I)”
The first song on “Barragan,” the title track, is a breezy intro. It has a little acoustic guitar, and nature-y sounds of birds and wind; very calming. ‘Surprising’ might be another word to use. Blonde Redhead set up to change their image on “Barragan,” delivering more of a typical indie sound then their usual convoluted noise-rock inspired alternative. The result isn’t great. The album is left feeling largely empty, pointless and phoned in.
The album still has it’s moments. There are two stand out songs – the catchy and electro-brooding of “Dripping” is more akin to their better works, and the multi-chaptered story “Defeatist Anthem (Harry and I)” is a fulfilling listen. The latter is written and performed as a few smaller songs, each complementing a larger work. These two tracks still show a hint at an enthusiasm that isn’t really present on the rest of the album. The album’s production is particularly crisp, which does the best it can to benefit the minimalist, soft sound. Frequent use of calming sound effects – birds, typewriters, wind – adds to the album’s cooling sound, and the production enhances it.
But rambling about the production for the positives paragraph isn’t a good sign. There are some interesting songs on the album, but there are some that just feel lifeless. “Penultimo,” which is – you guessed it – the second to last song, is forgettably dull. The band’s problem isn’t that they aren’t inspired – choosing this point in their career to overhaul their sound is evident of that. Their problem rests in not being able to properly transcribe their desire to rework themselves. A majority of the songs on “Barragan” sound phoned in, like they’re changing their image for no real purpose. A band like Blonde Redhead shouldn’t need to feed into the already overbloated indie scene, but they are. The needlessly long “Mind to Be Had” (at 8:47) feels directly reminiscent of the needlessly long Death Cab song “I Will Possess Your Heart” (at 8:26), in that both feature a 3+ minute intro that’s painfully repetitive and time-killing.
It, like many other songs on “Barragan” just feels it’s missing something. There’s too many underhand pitches with no direction and a thin sound. “Barragan” feels like a map that the mapmaker didn’t bother to put any names on. The album is easy to absorb, with it’s soft sounds, but it’s nothing more, and that’s not the type of band Blonde Redhead has been. So kudos to a band always trying to keep things unique, but it just didn’t work this time. “Barragan” has no oomph, no back to it, and it’s pretty boring because of it.
If you like this, try: For a much better representation of a 90’s noise-rock-inspired group unexpectedly changing their output, try Sonic Youth’s 2006 “Rather Ripped.”
-By Andrew McNally