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Blonde Redhead

A constantly evolving group, Blonde Redhead's artfully noisy rock and mysterious, bittersweet pop are united by a darkly romantic outlook that verges on cinematic. Despite the no wave leanings and pedal stomping of their early singles and 1995 self-titled debut, the group's music was as informed by Jean-Luc Godard and Pier Paolo Pasolini (whose work the band paid homage to on 1995's La Mia Vita Violenta) as My Bloody Valentine or Fugazi. Working with the latter band's Guy Picciotto on 2000's Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons and 2004's Misery Is a Butterfly resulted in a pair of highlights that put the band's delicate beauty and fierce outbursts in striking balance; later in the decade and into the 2010s, Blonde Redhead's music was quieter, but no less inventive. With 2007's 23, they streamlined and reinvented shoegaze years before its wider revival, and took their experiments in minimalism to their logical conclusion on 2014's Barragán. When Blonde Redhead returned with 2023's Sit Down to Dinner, their mystique was as powerful as ever. Born in Milan and raised in Montreal, Amadeo Pace (guitar/vocals) and his twin brother Simone (drums) moved to Boston to study jazz at the Berklee College of Music. After a move to New York City, they met Japanese film student and classical music fan Kazu Makino (vocals/guitar) in 1990 through mutual friends; Makino and Amadeo connected immediately and soon formed the project Masculin Feminin. Named for the Godard film, the duo's songs reflected the their love of artists such as Billie Holiday, Joao Gilberto, and the Rolling Stones. However, Makino encouraged them to push their boundaries, and they incorporated alternate tunings and louder volumes inspired by My Bloody Valentine into their style. With the addition of Simone on drums and Tada Hirano on bass, they became Blonde Redhead in 1991, taking the band's name from a song on DNA's 1981 EP A Taste of DNA. An early gig with Janitor Joe put Blonde Redhead on the radar of Oxo Records, which released the band's debut single, "Amescream/Big Song," in April 1993. Blonde Redhead gave a copy of the single to Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon after a show with her project Free Kitten, which led to a gig opening for the alternative rock stars on a tour of Italy. After issuing a split single with Sammy on Misha Records, the band debuted on Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley's label Smells Like Records with the single "Vague/Jet Star" and followed it with "10 Feet High/Valentine." Hirano departed the group, with Maki Takahashi joining the band in time to record their debut album. Produced by Shelley, January 1995's Blonde Redhead expanded on the group's noisy guitar interplay and minimalist experiments and included contributions from their longtime friend, bassist Skuli Sverisson. That February, the band issued "Flying Douglas/Harmony" as part of Rough Trade's Singles Club. Takahashi left the band, with Toko Yasuda (who went on to play with Enon and St. Vincent) stepping in to record September 1995's La Mia Vita Violenta. Recorded at several New York City studios including the Magic Shop, the band's second album took inspiration from writer/filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini and boasted instrumental flourishes such as sitar. Following Yasuda's departure, Blonde Redhead continued as a trio. Reflecting their growing closeness to the D.C. punk scene, they invited Unwound's Vern Rumsey to play bass on their next album, March 1997's Fake Can Be Just as Good. Their first album on Touch & Go, it was produced by John Goodmanson and emphasized the tension between the aggressive and delicate sides of their music. Blonde Redhead eliminated bass and scaled back to guitars, drums, and vocals for September 1998's In an Expression of the Inexpressible. Recorded at Hoboken's Jolly Roger studio and co-produced by Goodmanson and Fugazi's Guy Picciotto, the band's fourth album featured some of their cleanest sonics and most melodic songs to date. Also in 1998, Blonde Redhead released a cover of Serge Gainsbourg's "Slogan" as a single backed with "Limited Conversation" (both songs were included on the Japanese edition of In an Expression of the Inexpressible). The band reunited with Picciotto on June 2000's Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons. Recorded with co-producer Ryan Hadlock at Washington State's Bear Creek Studio, its songs explored Makino and Amadeo Pace's romantic relationship and expanded on Inexpressible's emphasis on melody and structure. Melodie Citronique, an EP that collected French and Italian language versions of Lemons songs as well as "Slogan," appeared that October. In 2003, Makino suffered severe injuries when she was thrown off a horse and trampled underneath it. During her recovery, she underwent facial reconstruction surgery and had to learn how to sing again. Her experiences had a profound impact on Blonde Redhead's next album, March 2004's Misery Is a Butterfly. The band's first full-length for 4AD, it reunited them with Picciotto and Hadlock and featured string arrangements by Eyvind Kang that maximized the fragile, chamber pop beauty of its songs. Misery Is a Butterfly became Blonde Redhead's first charting album, reaching number ten on the Heatseekers Albums chart and number 180 on the 200 Albums chart in the U.S., number 41 on the U.K. Independent Albums chart, and also appeared on the French and Italian Albums charts. The band embellished on the album's melancholy romance with February 2005's Secret Society of Butterflies EP, which presented alternate versions of some of its songs and a David Sylvian collaboration. The following year, Makino provided vocals for the soundtrack to the remake of Brian DePalma's Sisters. For their next album, Blonde Redhead recorded at New York City's Magic Shop and Stay Gold studios, taking over the production duties themselves and adopting a more spontaneous approach. Mixed by Alan Moulder and featuring performances by Mitchell Froom, April 2007's 23 combined swooning dream pop and intricate electronic textures. Ultimately recognized as one of the great shoegaze albums, it built on Misery Is a Butterfly's chart success: It peaked at number 63 on the 200 Albums chart and cracked the Top Ten of the Independent Albums chart in the U.S., entered the Top 20 of the U.K. Independent Albums chart, and charted in Japan and several European countries. In 2008, Blonde Redhead scored Keven McAlester's Dungeons & Dragons documentary The Dungeon Master (an album of the score appeared in 2010). They then appeared on 2009's AIDS benefit album Dark Was the Night, working with Devastations on the song "When the Road Runs Out." The band's next full-length, Penny Sparkle, arrived in September 2010. Recorded in New York and Stockholm with Alan Moulder, Van Rivers, and the Subliminal Kid, the album took Blonde Redhead's music in a more stripped-down, electronic-leaning direction. In the U.S., it reached 79 on the 200 Albums chart and 16 on the Independent Albums chart; in the U.K., it peaked at 41 on the Independent Albums chart. In July 2011, the band issued an EP of remixes that saw Gayngs, Pantha du Prince, SALEM and others reworking Penny Sparkle tracks. Blonde Redhead then scored the 2012 film The Commentator, which documented Danish filmmaker Jørgen Leth's passion for announcing the Paris Roubaix Cycling Race. Meanwhile, Makino organized We Are the Works in Progress, an album that benefitted the Japan Society and the Architecture for Humanity in the wake of the 2011 tsunami and included song sketches and demos from Four Tet, Interpol, Nosaj Thing, and others. By 2013, Blonde Redhead were at work on their next album with producer Drew Brown at studios including the Magic Shop and Benton Harbor, Michigan's Key Club. Released through Kobalt, September 2014's gauzy Barragán favored analogue instrumentation and a minimalist approach. The album peaked at 180 on the 200 Albums chart and at 29 on the Independent Albums chart in the U.S., and also charted in the U.K. and France. Also in 2014, the Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons track "For the Damaged Coda" appeared in the first season of the cult-favorite animated series Rick and Morty and ultimately became a streaming hit for its use on the show as the theme song for Evil Morty and in memes. The band revisited its early days in 2016 with the Numero Group box set Masculin Feminin, which collected Blonde Redhead and La Mia Via Violenta along with demos, singles, and radio performances from that era. That year also saw the release of Freedom of Expression on Barragán Hard, a collection of Barragán remixes with contributions from Deerhoof, Van Rivers, Nosaj Thing, and Connan Mockasin. Blonde Redhead returned with new music in 2017 in the shape of 3 O'Clock, an EP featuring guests such as Kang, Michael Leonhart, and Sam Owens; the band released it on their own Asa Wa Kuru Records. Makino then worked with Ryuichi Sakamoto, Greg Saunier, Ian Chang and Mauro Refosco on her debut solo album, September 2019's Adult Baby. In 2022, Blonde Redhead played a string of shows opening for Tool, then released their tenth album, Sit Down for Dinner, in September 2023. Written over the course of five years, the album drew from the band's experience of being separated from their loved ones during the COVID-19 global pandemic, Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, and the need to savor the moment.
© Heather Phares /TiVo


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