Blonde Redhead: Barragan

For better or for worse, their only constant's change.

- Barragan is the ninth studio album by NYC's Blonde Redhead and in usual Blonde Redhead form it takes the band down another road of musical exploration. While 23 saw them adopt a shoegaze flavour and Penny Sparkle explored electronica and dream pop, Barragan is constructed from sparse krautrock and funk with guitars becoming the main talking point.

The first half of the record has a strange, upbeat feel that is not typical Redhead. The title track opens on a simple acoustic guitar played against a backdrop of an urban field recording and sets the tone for things to come. Lady M is pure kraut kit-work with layered guitars spilling out over the repeated rhythm while Kazu Makino delivers her dense yet delicate trademark vocals over the top; it feels like a return to form. Dripping is the first track where Amedeo Pace takes the vocal lead. It's pure dancefloor fodder and the first really eyebrow raising moment on the record, Cat On Tin Roof delivering the next one.

Lead single, No More Honey, sounds as if it is a soundtrack to an imminently depressing drug trip, with periodic blurts of lead guitar persistently skewing the listener's frame of reference. It's also indicative of problems common to much of the record: most of these songs clock in at just past the three minute mark and some feel like they have little room to breathe, arbitarily snuffed just as the groove starts to come into its own. Mind To Be Had is the album's longest cut, clocking in just shy of nine minutes, evolving and building throughout: it could almost be Stereolab. It is also one of the few moments Blonde Redhead actually allow themselves to achieve what they've attempted with this record.

Defeatist Anthem (Harry & I) is another longer track and it takes some wildly odd, experimental turns in its dying moments. Penultimo seems like a throwback to Penny Sparkle, quite an interesting addition to the record. The end is the rather anticlimactic Seven Two, a disappointing way to go out, failing to capitalise on the promise of earlier tracks.

Though Barragan is not without flaws, quality hooks and rhythms go a long way in apologising for them. It is Blonde Redhead's cleanest most produced record to date, which really shows, and also, in an age where the guitar is being thrown by the wayside it is good to see that band's still know how to make good guitar music. Finally Barragan might only be a passable Blonde Redhead record, but they are still one of the most interesting bands in alternative music.

- Brad Armstrong.

Album Details

Album Title: Barragan
Artist: Blonde Redhead
Record Label: (Asawa Kuru)