Blonde Redhead have slowly let their spiky no-wave roots grow out. Initially indebted to Sonic Youth, the trio of singer Kazu Mikano and Italian twin brothers Amadeo and Simone Pace based their sound on jags of guitar noise. But they'd tempered their squalor by 2000, when they released the evocative, lustrous disc Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons. Rather than simply raise the volume, the band played up nuance and melancholia, weaving in spiny programmed beats to devastating effect.
Since signing to the gauzy and dreamy 4AD imprint, Blonde Redhead have focused on the ethereal. This sound comes to a head on 23, their seventh album (and second for the label). This time out, Blonde Redhead recorded with famed knob twister Alan Moulder (who manned the boards for fuzzy U.K. guitar bands like Jesus & Mary Chain and Swervedriver). When the guitars begin to swerve and veer around Mikano's voice on the opening title track, it's hard not to recall Moulder's greatest renown, fording the flood of guitar noise made by My Bloody Valentine on Loveless. Mikano has become wispy and less substantial with each album, and here, her soprano is drowned outright. "My Impure Hair" tries to impersonate the indolent drag of Mazzy Star, yet hangs limp.
Sonic details are often lost in the rinse of guitars (only in the waning moments of "Dr. Strangeluv" does a grid of hand percussion make its presence heard). Love as theme surfaces often (see Amadeo Pace's keening turn on "SW"), but even this sentiment overwhelms and turns mushy. Yet it matches 23's guitar tones, which submerge structures in their washes, leaving few moments to dry out and breathe.