At one time Blonde Redhead was going to be the next Sonic Youth. The trio that formed in New York City in 1993 was named after a song by No Wave band DNA, and their first two records were released on Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley’s label, Smells Like Records. But today they are the next Cocteau Twins, for, although they boast a more organic rhythm section than Robin Guthrie’s drum machine, their approach to music has come to channel his guitars in their ethereal, space-pop approach.
That’s an oversimplification, but you’ll hear a lot less grinding, dissonant guitar parts in today’s Blonde Redhead. “Sit Down For Dinner,” their new release, is a welcome return, nine years after their previous record. The threesome is still composed of founding members Kazu Makino (vocals, keys and rhythm guitar) and twin brothers Simone (drums, keys) and Amedeo Pace (lead guitar, bass, keys, vocals). Makino’s soprano and Amedeo Pace’s tenor trade vocal parts and duet, but as on so many dream pop assemblages, the words are more impressionistic than literal—it’s best to hear the vox as another instrument as opposed to the words conveying meaning.
Consider the first single, “Snowman,” and its hiccuping, stutter-step rhythm—you can make out the title of the song, but not much else, and the same holds true for much of the rest of the release. The words whir in and out of focus, much like the woozy synth part on “Melody Experiment.” For Blonde Redhead, the meaning exists in a haze generated by the assemblage of all of the parts. Sure, there is more abstract music, and some just as trance-inducing, but what’s unique about Blonde Redhead is the way the simplicity of their compositions belies the rich instrumentation and disguises their deconstructionist impulses.
There’s richness embodied in the title as well. While the trio makes it a priority to have dinner together when touring and recording, and for the Pace twins, the importance of dinner is culturally significant (attributable to their Italian heritage), the meaning of the title for Makino has a darker dimension. The duo of “Sit Down For Dinner” songs on the album, and the album’s title, were inspired by a passage from Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” (2005). A memoir of grief, the book includes Didion’s reflections on witnessing her husband’s sudden death at the dinner table. Makino read the pertinent passage in the spring of 2020, during the pandemic’s peak, and thought of her parents in distant Japan, mourning the impossibility of congregating for dinner during the isolation. She penned the pair of title songs in response to her feelings, saying that “it’s sort of about death, but the music is so alive and groovy,” pointing to an apparent contradiction between content and delivery.
Whether “Sit Down For Dinner” will be a touchstone of the predicted post-pandemic renaissance is anyone’s guess at this point, but it’s one of my favorites of the year. Expect Blonde Redhead to deliver plenty of spooky music on Halloween night at Thalia Hall.
Blonde Redhead performs at Thalia Hall, 1807 South Allport. Tuesday, October 31. Doors 7pm; show 8pm. Tickets $35 here.
Craig Bechtel is a freelance writer and has also been a Senior Staff Writer for Pop’stache. He is also a DJ, volunteer and Assistant Music Director for CHIRP Radio, 107.1 FM, and contributes occasionally to the CHIRP blog. As DJ Craig Reptile, you can hear him play music on the FM dial or at www.chirpradio.org most Sunday nights from 6pm to 9pm. He previously worked in radio at KVOE AM and Fox 105 in Emporia, Kansas, and served as a DJ, music director and general manager for WVKC at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, where he also won the Davenport Prize for Poetry and earned a B.A. in English writing. Craig has been working in various capacities within the hotel and meetings industry for over twenty years, and presently works at a company that uses proprietary systems to develop proven data strategies that increase revenue, room nights and meeting attendance. In his spare time, he also fancies himself an armchair herpetologist, and thus in addition to a wife, son and cat, he has a day gecko and a veiled chameleon in his collection.