Lemons sometimes sounds like an ice rink's free-skate organist, who in a state of chemically induced schizophrenia has locked him (and her)-self in the console room to generate interpretive program music from the throes of a self-inflicted Jungian analysis. A wistfully groovy recorder arrangement inventories the scene and cleanses the palate for "In Particular"'s mesmerizing opening. The music deepens hypnotically to herald the smoke-drift of vaguely moaned tonal whispers. That's the voice of Kazu Makino, one of today's most recognizable and riveting singers.
In the band's songs, Makino's artful, girlish non-narrative monologues for the lovelorn are framed by Simone Pace, a drum innovator who puts the songs first. His is a finessed structural flurrying with immaculate accents in crisply-cut snare punctuations. A signature Blonde Redhead gift is its natural way with unwieldy and lengthy line chord progressions that wind into weird and wondrous places when they would be disastrous in the clutches of a lesser band.
The quick way home is never taken and moments of stunted major key relief inflect latent mournful prettinesses, angle-lit anew. A bizarre illusion of simultaneous falling apart and restoration often pervades as spellbinding guitarist Amedeo Pace's conjuring shell game teases you into deciding whether what happened three chords ago was actually acceptable, even as you enjoy the moment.
Some of these trademarks seem absent from Blonde Redhead's new scaled-down, trip-hoppy electronics-stewed 4AD recording, Penny Sparkle. The album has been greeted divisively by critics. As Makino sings in the stunning "The Dress," off the challenging 23, "People hate you when you're changing." But how can the members of Blonde Redhead not change, when they've been touring their previous record for two years or so?
Cries of sellout will fly from covetous fans, resenting newcomers and the new record that brought them aboard. Not to worry; Blonde Redhead's songs are more likely than most to give widely differing impressions with repeat visits. Songs that might at first grate can become essential over time.