Blonde Redhead: Penny Sparkle (4AD)

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Blonde Redhead: There Will Be Stars
Blonde Redhead: Penny Sparkle (4AD)

This album by the US-based trio (Italian-born Montreal-raised twins and a Japanese singer, here with a keyboardist and a Moog player) arrived late last year but is timely to now address given they will appear at the forthcoming Laneway Festivals in New Zealand -- and what an enticing, dreamy and dim-the-lights collection this is to persuade you along to see them.

Doubtless these songs will come up rather more brusque on stage, but here they work as a coherent mood piece of strange isolation, disturbingly dislocated imagery and an emotional weariness pushed forward by sometimes deliberately soulless electro-pop beats and synths which place it some distance from much of their earlier slightly-delic power pop.

However there is a spaciousness here which at times sounds rather calculated for effect (Oslo) and recalls early Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and mid-period Cure with a hint of Talk Talk.

Singer Kazu Makino carries the initial attention of course, but over repeat plays it is the atmospheric sonic backdrops (the title track, Love or Prison) which most often impress.

But every now and again, far too often in fact, attention wanders because there is also a cool, emotional anonymity here in the synths and loops (Black Guitar). You long for a shaft of the unexpected to impose itself -- but this has been manicured to cool and sometimes icy perfection. When the rare blast happens -- Everything is Wrong -- it arrives far too late on the albm to be successful, and ushers in Black Guitar and the pallid closer, Spain. Too little, too late.

So an album which is seductive on many levels and you certainly want to see how they brush up live. But also a collection which, while cohesive and elegant, lacks texture on too many levels.

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