Today I have a copy of Blonde Redhead’s 2007 LP 23. It is the band’s 7th proper LP and their second for the 4AD label. And it remains my favorite release by the group to this day, which is saying a lot because Blonde Redhead is among my favorite bands, and they’ve released some truly amazing records. I mean, Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons is right up there as a shy second and Misery is a Butterfly comes in right after.
It’s hard to pick a favorite from a band you truly love.
Here’s my video coverage of the record:
23 was self produced, and while it’s noted that the group “aimed to be more spontaneous” in their songwriting, what we got on the album seemed anything but. What’s interesting is that the band strived for “simplicity and clarity” which opposes the typical traps creatives fall into: overanalyzing, overthinking, and overworking things. This led drummer Simone Pace to call it “nerve wracking” to enter the studio with unpolished songs and vocalist Kazu Makino to state that it “wasn’t an entirely enjoyable experience.”
Conflict can sometimes lead to breakthroughs, and it certainly seemed to happen here.
23 presented us with 10 incredibly cohesive tracks that flow impeccably from one to the next. The result is an expertly conceived record that, in addition to being my favorite Blonde Redhead release, is probably an all-time, desert island top five release for me.
The album opens with the title track amidst dreamy, swirling guitars, and ethereal, somewhat haunting vocals. From the get-go, on 23, Blonde Redhead diverts us from their art rock and experimental beginnings for something that is almost wholeheartedly shoegaze.
Here’s the music video for the album opener:
This shoegaze-y sound is pervasive throughout the album, most notably in other top tracks like “SW” and “Spring and by Summer Fall”, the latter of which is probably my pick for the album’s pinnacle thanks to truly incredible lyrics, lead guitar hooks, and dreamy, swirling, atmospheric background guitars.
Then there’s “The Dress” and “Silently,” both slow-burning ballads with an ethereal sound and dreamy, pseudo melancholic lyrics.
They do flirt with their signature artsy side, though. You can hear it come through a little in tracks like “The Publisher” — another favorite of mine from the album. There’s a lot of introspection here, which seems the default for anything that even remotely leans shoegaze. Where others on the album lean atmospheric, this one has a driving force to it that’s more akin to pent up energy bubbling over the surface.
So 23 marks a definitive departure from the more abrasive sound of Blonde Redhead’s earlier work, and it represents a more atmospheric and somewhat introspective direction for the band. Yes, they touched on it in 2004’s Misery is a Butterfly, but with 23 they went all in. This direction would continue to evolve on “Penny Sparkle” from 2010 and “Barragán” from 2014.
After being out of print for quite some time, 23 was recently repressed and is available at a pretty decent price for the time being. As of the publishing of this review, you can snag a vinyl copy for about $25 USD from Amazon.
Where does the album stand in comparison to others by Blonde Redhead? Let me know in the comments below.