‘These Are Different Matters, These Are Uncertain Feelings’: Blonde Redhead’s ‘Melody Of Certain Damaged Lemons’ At 20

A look back at the coolest world party of 2000

Blonde Redhead Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, Touch & Go 2000

From the start, Blonde Redhead was a pan-global affair.

Italian-born Canadian twins Simone and Amedeo Pace formed the project in New York in 1993 upon meeting art student Kazu Makino, and despite a number of fourth members coming and going over the years, the band has remained centered around this core trio since, named for a song by NYC No-Wavers DNA and honing their craft from abrasive noise on their earliest works to much-acclaimed shoegaze and dream-pop textures by the late 2000s. Their fifth full-length, Melody Of Certain Damaged Lemons, finds them transitioning from these auspicious beginnings towards the latter stargazing fantasias for which they’re better known, and as a result the album doesn’t fall neatly into either paradigm. This can be read as the album’s biggest strength. Working once more with longtime producer Guy Picciotto (Fugazi, Rites Of Spring), Melody outlines where the band was willing to go through interesting new wrinkles and sonic experiments. The increased attention towards accessible elements doesn’t obscure the noise here, only provides an interesting contrast and a sense of the band’s hidden capabilities waiting to be fully realized.

At a crisp thirty-nine minutes, Melody is all compact precision and calculated force. “Equally Damaged” opens with oddly-distorted woodwinds pulled apart and pitch-shifting into the drum machine-flanked churn of “In Particular”, this song in turn tumbling head-first into the breakneck noise-waltz of “Melody Of Certain Three”, the trio tethering back their accustomed swirling explosion of noise until the song’s collapsing moments. “Hated Because Of Great Qualities” is an eerie throb slowly blossoming outward and ringed in tender acoustic strumming, while its sequel, “Loved Despite Great Faults” drifts along on a Beatles-esque bed of conflicting chords and the distant hint of what might be a harpsichord, fizzling and fading on the spent rocket burst of a slammed and dissonant piano chord. 

Blonde Redhead The Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons 10th Anniversary Edition, Touch & Go 2010

“Ballad Of Lemons” begins the album’s second act with tinny, processed electronic beeps and burbles, briefly bringing to mind Stereolab’s celebrated ‘space age bachelor pad’ jams, before the stately pop of “This Is Not” saunters onto the stage. “A Cure” is more of the same, off-kilter drumming and call and response boy-girl swoons against sharp handclaps and countryfied slide guitar. “For The Damaged” is a surprisingly tender piano and acoustics ballad swept in haunted minor chords against Makino’s exhausted-sounding wails, quickly replaced by full-on distorted screams over the frantic drumming and rolling bass of “Mother”, the one true throwback to the band’s noise-rock roots. Based on a Chopin nocturne, “For The Damaged Coda” gives some small hint as to the more ethereal waters the band would soon be navigating, thus closing out Melody, the very definition of a transitional album but no less accomplished or enjoyable for being so, a farewell and new beginning all at once.

Four long years would pass before Blonde Redhead’s next full-length, Misery Is A Butterfly, whose lyrical themes and bleak imagery reflect the incident that inspired such a significant gap, the horse-trampling of Makino and the painful recovery she endured in the ensuing years. The album following Misery, 23, would prove to be their breakthrough and most popular effort, but Melody’s tense and noisy internal weather makes for an intriguing snapshot of a band restlessly progressing and growing, reflected in a very literal sense in the red-light bathed snapshots of the band members on the cover, implying a photographic quality that reads as elegy for the music they’re leaving behind, and the music they’re still yet to make. 

 

Zachary Corsa

Zachary Corsa is a musician, poet, and music writer living in Memphis, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter at nonconnahdrone.

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