December 21 — “Messenger” by Blonde Redhead

Blonde Redhead (a few years ago)

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Messenger” by Blonde Redhead (2004, from the album Misery is a Butterfly).

Blonde Redhead is an indie rock trio from New York who have been making records since 1995.

Twin brothers Simone (drums) and Armedeo (lead guitar, vocals) Pace were born in Milan, Italy and raised in Montréal. They studied Jazz at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, earning their degrees before moving to New York. There, they met Japanese-born singer/keyboardist/guitarist Kazu Makino, who was in New York studying art. Those three and a Japanese-born bassist formed Blonde Redhead in 1993, naming themselves after a 1981 song by the no-wave band DNA.

Early in their career, Blonde Redhead had sort of a noise-rock/post-punk Sonic Youth thing going on, and they eventually caught the eye of Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley. He ended up producing their first two records and releasing them on his label Smells Like Records. Since then, they’ve lost the bassist, changed their style a little bit, released three records on the punk label Touch-N-Go, and three more on 4AD.

In the 1990s, the band worked hard, releasing new albums with regularity and touring even more regularly. Unfortunately, they were forced to take a brief pause between Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons (2000) and Misery is a Butterfly (2004). In 2002, Makino was thrown from, then trampled by a horse. She suffered some pretty serious injuries, including a shattered jaw. While she recovered, the band had time to write some new stuff and tie up some loose ends on previously unfinished stuff. The hiatus, they say, turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Misery is a Butterfly is the last Blonde Redhead album that I got excited about. 23 came out during my period of new music shutdown, and I’ve still never even heard it. I got 2010’s Penny Sparkle, but for some reason, it’s never really tickled my fancy. I can always happily go back to Misery…, though. I like almost every song on the album, and it’s a big plus that it seems like it’s influenced by Björk. At least a little bit, anyway.

Tonight’s song is one of my favorites from that album.

“Messenger” by Blonde Redhead

Usually, I prefer the songs that Makino sings. However, I love this one even though it’s Armedeo Pace singing.

I really like the rhythm of this. And I like that it’s just mysterious enough to be sexy. The lyrics are impossible to understand, and I’m certain that it’s by design. I thought for a while that there might be something really cool hidden in the lyrics, but there really isn’t much at all.

Stay still do be still
No wonder you are always lost
If a messenger you must be known
Then with messages you must return
To be seen by demanding hands
And touches of jealous men
Invisible and forgivable
To all their secret hands

Be it so be quick
Don’t run just walk and walk and walk
Don’t loose yourself to decorate
Somewhere on your wall
Cause somewhere in your mind
You know you are doing fine
Holding secret hair locks
You’ll pluck before you hide

So how can I keep anything to myself
So how can I keep any of these to myself
So how can I keep anything to myself
Behind those clouds
I’m almost home

While the melody and the rhythm are infectious, I just don’t know what to make of those lyrics. There’s something oddly Shakespearean about that first verse. Again, I don’t make heads or tails of it, but it seems like a bit of a soliloquy from a tragedy.

Buy Misery is a Butterfly from the 4AD Records web store here.

About dlee

North Carolina born and bred. I'm a restaurant guy who spends free time listening to music, watching hockey and playing Scrabble. I have a bachelor's degree in political science and I will most likely never put it to use. View all posts by dlee

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