There are two kinds of boring music: the kind you can forget and
the kind you can’t ignore. The forgettable — and
forgivable — makes an album sound stale after only a few
listens. Hooks lose their sparkle, ballads become innocuous muzak
and lyrics turn into mere background chatter. The other type,
however, can be offensive, disappointing and just plain sad for
audiences. When expectations are high for more of the same great
music or when listeners crave further exploration of new directions
previously hinted at, a band’s stumble or slump can seem like
more of a descent into mediocrity than it really is.

Music Reviews

Blonde Redhead’s Misery Is a Butterfly falls into
the second category. The ultra-intellectual content and scrap-metal
instrumentals that made Melodies of Certain Damaged Lemons a
musical Easter egg hunt lose their cutting edges on the
band’s fifth full-length release as a trio. Twins Amadeo
(guitar) and Simone Pace (percussion) and guitarist/vocalist Kazu
Makino have always carried the stigma of indie corporatization
— their self-titled debut was produced by Steve Shelley,
Sonic Youth’s drummer, and they appeared in a Gap ad —
but their albums were always interesting to hear. Their first
release after switching labels from Touch & Go to 4AD,
Misery Is a Butterfly provides the same uber-hip sound
template, but none of the crunch and glitter that used to make
Blonde Redhead interesting.

On previous releases like Melodies of Certain Damaged
, you had to strain your ears to pick up all the sonic
filigree and detritus that Blonde Redhead hid in their songs
— and you were rewarded. Tracks like Damaged
“This Is Not” explored a wide range
of different sounds, from meditative guitar riffs to sing-songy
delivery of lyrics to Kazu’s bone-chilling vocal
manipulations. Unfortunately, sound gems like these are hidden or
omitted on Misery. Kazu’s vocals are just as breathy
and dreamlike as before, and the Pace brothers provide a solid
instrumental base. But rather than creating layers with blankets of
vastly different sounds, in songs like “Doll Is Mine,”
the trio has injected wide swaths of thick, plodding strings
between their three core elements. It’s not that the band
isn’t trying; the larger elements make for a backdrop against
which limitless narrative and musical possibilities could unfold.
Maybe that’s the problem: Without the junky, jangling effects
to jar us out of the standard indie rock formula, Blonde Redhead
become quotidian and ineffectual.

Misery Is a Butterfly isn’t an unpleasant listen if
you’re looking for an album to put on the stereo while
you’re doing something else. But Blonde Redhead have always
made a point to remind listeners that they’re hearing
something unique — and if their previous releases are any
indication, the band is anything but forgettable. Skip Misery Is
a Butterfly
, but don’t count them out yet. Hold out for
something better from this motley New York trio.

Music Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars

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