Blonde Redhead Misery is a Butterfly

[4AD; 2004]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: indie rock, dream rock, baroque rock
Others: Cocteau Twins, Enon, Dismemberment Plan

Sometimes I really feel that I'm betraying my musical elitism. I rail against bands that aren't innovative, even if they're far removed from the mainstream. I've convinced myself I get some higher-order enjoyment out of listening to unabashed noise. I like to talk about recontextualization of sound and the merits of experimentation. I've given up hope that any of my friends will share my tastes. But then I put in a record that I initially scoff at, such as Misery is a Butterfly, and then start to honestly enjoy it. This prompts quite a crisis. I have to question why I enjoy it, and sometimes that ruins the experience. Other times, the music is impervious to my scrutiny.

So far, that's been the case with Misery is a Butterfly. I find myself wanting to write it off as pop pap, having had an uneasy experience with Blonde Redhead in the past. Apparently four years does a band well. Blonde Redhead has found a sound that's more decidedly theirs, opting for the lush and gloomy environs of brooding emotions, far from the borderline Sonic Youth derivatives of their past. The aesthetic here is all strings and droning antique organs, which is a suitable complement to the vocals and their dreary despair.

In fact, the whole affair has a grandiose, almost decadent feel to it, with its damaged beauty and elegance. Take a look at the opening single "Elephant Woman," which is manifested by harpsichord, sweeping strings, hand drums, and Kazu Makino's weeping vocals. Or Amedeo Pace's whimpering vocal take on "Doll is Mine." However, some songs don't capture the melancholy as succinctly, such as ill-fitting "Equus," which has an urgency that doesn't mesh appropriately with the rest of the album.

Misery is a Butterfly brings a shift in style that I definitely welcome with open arms,  which exhibits a wholly new manner of capability for the band. Some of the songs fall short of the mark, but the high points are laudable. I would imagine almost anyone reading this review would find something they like in this album, so I can't help but recommend it.

1. Elephant Woman
2. Messenger
3. Melody
4. Doll Is Mine
5. Misery Is a Butterfly
6. Falling Man
7. Anticipation
8. Maddening Cloud
9. Magic Mountain
10. Pink Love
11. Equus