Music to Nap By

Blonde Redhead’s Misery Is a Butterfly

Fans have been waiting four years for Misery Is a Butterfly, the latest album from Blonde Redhead, the New York based art-noise trio that has been compared to Sonic Youth throughout much of their 10 year history. The band was best known for fusing distorted vocals and fuzzy guitars with interesting synthesized pop, not unlike Elastica and Life Without Buildings. Misery Is a Butterfly, however, is a contrived attempt at evolving into a more serious type of music.

This appears to be largely influenced by a near-death experience, when singer Kazu Makino was thrown from and then trampled by a horse, crushing many of the bones in her face. Makino underwent involved reconstructive surgery, vocal training, and months of emotional recovery before heading into the studio to record Misery. Compared with their 2000 release, Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons (Touch & Go), their latest material is the sad, withered husk of greatness. One song runs into the next, never really changing course or temperament. The once powerful beats of drummer Simone Pace are now lost in the muddle of swirling strings and the squeaky, seal-like cries of Makino. “Elephant Woman,” the lead track and single, is guaranteed to put even the most caffeinated listener to sleep, while “Falling Man,” the only strong and remotely curious track on the entire album, is buried deep in the middle of the disc.

In the liner notes, Kazu Makino cheekily thanks several physicians for putting her “back in one piece.” Halfway through this hissing sack of ether, I started to wonder if the other two members of Blonde Redhead weren’t run over by an airplane or thrown from a malfunctioning carnival ride. 4AD Records, the label that propelled interesting and innovative bands like Cocteau Twins, Lush and Dead Can Dance, signed Blonde Redhead without hearing the demo tracks from Misery Is a Butterfly. Perhaps their confidence in this release was premature, as it offers only slightly more originality than the stale “alternative” music we’re accustomed to hearing from Portishead or Garbage.

Misery Is a Butterfly is certainly not Blonde Redhead at its best, but it has inspired me to listen to and enjoy their earlier releases more than ever. Fans can only hold out hope that they find a way to overcome this creative lull, and come back with an interesting, and passionate new project — I just hope we don’t have to wait another four years.