It’s not entirely clear whether Barragán, the ninth album from New York’s longtime staple three-piece Blonde Redhead, is named after the famous Mexican modernist architect Luis Barragán, but there’s a fitting allusion there; Barragán is constructed with a subtle fluidity, sprawling across its ten tracks like a particularly well designed cityscape, each track built with a unique structure.
The title track opens the album, starting with warm, acoustic guitar tones in a classical style, accompanied by a smooth, shivering high flute, its airy tones like something that would play in a movie about a fairy tale forest scene, with sunlight filtering through the trees and fluttering birds and a wandering peasant girl with plaited hair. The track ends with more abstract sounds, a thud like the slamming of a car door, and Barragán rushes forward into the modern world.
Each track on the album has its own flavor, colored by Blonde Redhead’s jazzy roots (twins Simone and Amedeo Pace, on drums and lead guitar, studied jazz in their college days) and the aesthetics of its producer/engineer/mixer Drew Brown, who’s worked with the likes of Radiohead, Beck and The Books. Barragán takes the noise pop of the band’s very early days, in the form of abstract bangings and dissonant effects that appear at the beginnings and endings of tracks like “Lady M” and “No More Honey,” throws in a little shoegazey, dreamy synth pop, like that of the band’s 2010 album Penny Sparkle, and mixes it all together with a rather experimental slant.
Light guitar tones complement rhythm guitarist Kazu Makino’s sleek, dreamy vocals to an off-kilter beat, like a kind of postmodern, ultra-contemporary jazz. Then “Dripping” follows, with a slightly funky bass line, slick synths and an anchoring beat, a lo-fi, dancey synth pop song, where Simone’s vocals sound as if they’re coming through space. “Cat On Tin Roof” has a slinking descending bass that evokes a tom cat’s swagger, with a muted guitar that pops in for a bluesy little solo. It’s a kind of easygoing, free-form jam, as is “Mind To Be Had,” where washed out guitars are layered expertly with percussion, synths, and bass.
Other tracks edge toward a different aesthetic. The acoustic guitar on “The One I Love” gives it a classical, delicate sound, and its synths sound almost like hammered dulcimers, blending contemporary modern effects and a much older sound. “Penultimo,” aptly the album’s second to last track, has low piano and trebly, ringing synths that sound like a dulcimer or perhaps a harpsichord, and the closing track, “Seven Two,” switches again, its gentle acoustic guitars and airy vocals making it into a lullaby of sorts.
Barragán is an album with surprising twists and turns, and each track brings a new, interesting sound to the table, melding a variety of musical styles and influences with just the right amount of weirdness and experiment. It’s not necessarily easy for a band in its second decade to do something quite different, nor for them to do it so well. Blonde Redhead show themselves to be worthy architects, and hopefully there’s more up their sleeves for the years to come.