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First Listen: Blonde Redhead, 'Penny Sparkle'

If you were to hear Blonde Redhead's records back to back, you'd hear an incremental but deliberate through-line in the band's musical progression. From its early days as a noisy "no wave" outfit to Misery Is a Butterfly's baroque rock and the dream-pop of 23, Blonde Redhead has continued to refine and rethink its sound in inventive ways.

It's admirable that the trio — singer Kazu Makino and twin brothers Simone and Amedeo Pace — has repeatedly pushed toward the new for so many years. But here's Blonde Redhead again with its eighth album, Penny Sparkle, fully embracing a new direction by way of reduction. Like the band's best work, the new record is awash in bittersweet melodies and led by the haunting voice of Makino. But the key to the album's success is its quiet restraint.

Blonde Redhead trades its dissonant guitars for swooping synth pads and ethereal electronics, and yet the band's songwriting is as moody and evocative as ever. The lyrics imply more than they tell: "I'd love to see you before I leave / I leave next weekend; I'm not ready to go," Makino sings in "My Plants Are Dead." The song hints at the confusing feelings surrounding a broken relationship, but it leaves a lot off the page for listeners to infer for themselves.

The instrumentation is equally minimal. Where "Here Sometimes" and "Not Getting There" are more lavishly arranged with guitars, strings and drums, "Love or Prison" builds slowly from glacial electronic soundscapes and tone-bending synth lines. While many of the mid-tempo, low-energy songs share common space with the icy atmosphere of The xx or Portishead's trip-hop grooves, this sparse approach seems like the logical next step in the group's trajectory. Still, Penny Sparkle remains distinctly Blonde Redhead — and a subtly sculpted work worth revisiting.

Penny Sparkle will stream here in its entirety until its release on Sept. 20. Please leave your thoughts on the album in the comments section below.

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Mike Katzif