PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Blonde Redhead: Barragán

Barragán is aimless and directionless, and it’s hard to see what the group is trying to really do here other than make music that somehow pleases itself.

Blonde Redhead


Label: Kobalt
US Release Date: 2014-09-02
UK Release Date: 2014-09-01

Oh how the mighty have fallen. Blonde Redhead is best known for their dream pop masterwork, 2007’s 23, but followed up that album with 2010’s Penny Sparkle, a record that drew some mixed reviews at best, and outright derision in some quarters, for abandoning its guitars in favor of keyboard textures and sparseness. So, now, almost exactly four years after Penny Sparkle took its bow, we see Blonde Redhead going back to the drawing board to create an utterly barren album in Barragán. Expecting the same sonic squall of 23 all over again? You’re going to walk away very, very, very disappointed. The songs on this album are airy and minimalist, and weave in and out of prog rock and Krautrock rhythms.

Barragán is not overtly accessible -- it does take a few listens to warm up to it -- but it’s so all over the map and light that it just feels like a palate cleansing exercise. To be entirely candid and honest, it’s hard to make heads or tails of this one. On one hand, you want to reward and applaud the fact that the group are not content to simply retread old glories. On the other hand, Barragán is quite scattershot: there’s no underlying thread that ties these songs together, and it feels as though the outfit simply took a bunch of tunes and threw them against a wall to see if they would stick or not. Certainly, it’s... different. Whether or not you find this appealing or not may just hinge on your personal relationship to the band, and how willing you are to embrace whatever path Blonde Redhead wants to journey down.

From a critical standpoint, though, the album works and doesn’t work in almost an equilibrium balance. Even though it’s short at two minutes and change, the title track is a lilting melody of birdsong, classical guitar and flute. Sure, the band is going down the Jethro Tull route here (and, by the way, there’s nothing wrong with Jethro Tull), but it works as a nice, effective intro to the muted themes of the record. However, it’s just too short. You think the rest of the album would follow in this stead, but what comes next in “Lady M” is a kind of trip-hop bang and clang. It’s affecting, sure, but it floats off into the ether. Instead of riding on vapor trails as their guitar heavy workouts in the past would, “Lady M” is the vapour trail.

“Dripping”, which is next, is pretty much in a similar vein, though it’s quite possibly the one moment on the LP that’s most destined to be played on the club floor. It’s debonair, and there’s a kind of flair to the track, but, again, it just comes across as being slight, just riding on a military beat and some garish keyboard washes. “Cat On Tin Roof” brings back the indie rock bass hook, but that’s all that the song has going for it: a repeated riff, an issue that rears its head later in the album with the nearly nine minute “Mind to Be Had”. In that song, there’s a woozy keyboard riff worthy of any Krautrock act, but almost nine minutes of basically the same figure repeated and played over and over and bashed upside your head? Too much.

“The One I Love” hearkens back to the title track, as it’s the kind of baroque folk that is pretty, but, by now, it becomes crystal clear that Barragán lacks any kind of clarity in direction. What album does the outfit want it to be? Dunno. “No More Honey” has a minimalistic slink to it, and while it’s okay, by this point you start wondering if Blonde Redhead has simply run out of ideas and are padding out the album. This feeling is amplified by the time you get to “Defeatist Anthem (Harry and I)”, which are three songs grafted together along with a sonic collage to make for a running time of more than six minutes. And it’s that back half of the song that’s a big WTF? It is just male vocals cooing against a classical guitar lick, and then transmutes into something bizarre with what appears to be a didgeridoo going on. And then the record turns relatively quiet at its close with “Penultimo” and “Seven Two”, as though Blonde Redhead’s tank is completely empty, which, in turns, deflates the balloon of this record.

“Prepare to fail” goes a line on “Penultimo” and it would seem that Blonde Redhead is ready to be held up on its own petard with this disc. Barragán is aimless and directionless, and it’s hard to see what the group is trying to really do here other than make music that somehow pleases itself. The problem is, you still have an audience and a back catalog, and there are certain expectations that people have when it comes to Blonde Redhead, largely based upon the strength of 23 and the band's noise rock background. With this album, Blonde Redhead proves that it wants to junk its past and move towards the future, embracing an entirely new and Spartan style of music. That’s fine. People, and bands, change. But this doesn’t seem to congeal, and Barragán is again a band that is reinventing itself for the sake of reinvention.

The album does become more approachable the more that you listen to it, but that’s true of just about any record that doesn’t knock you upside the head with earworm licks on the first listen and then feel all too familiar on the second and third. Time might be the best measure of how Barragán works as a successful or unsuccessful record, and maybe four years from now our expectations of Blonde Redhead will have changed once again. However, you do have to wonder if the group has set them up for their own punch line, and it is this: a month or two from its release, you have to wonder if this album may be the sort of thing you see in the Barragán bin of your local record shop.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.