For fans of prolific New York-based trio Blonde Redhead, Christmas has come early. Months early, in fact. The genre-blending outfit have put out this, their tenth full-length release, and listeners will (and should) be frothing at the mouth.
Despite its somewhat unfamiliar name, Masculin Féminin (the title is actually a reference to Jean-Luc Godard’s 1966 film of the same name), this record is a compilation album, comprised mainly of material which will already be familiar to the band’s fans. Taking the form of a slick double album, the “Masculin” (French for, you guessed it, “masculine” or “male”) is a re-issue of the band’s eponymous debut album. This is pleasing, as the band’s early work is quite difficult to track down these days. The record features favorites such as “I Don’t Want U” and “Astro Boy” from the band’s beginnings as a noise rock-influenced outfit, but also comes with previously unreleased gems to catch the eye of any fan. A number of these were put out as singles in the lead-up to Masculin Féminin’s release, including “Big Song” and “This Is the Number of Times I Said I Will but Didn’t (4 Track Demo)”, the latter of which is, as the name suggests, one of the many demo tapes included in the boxset. Far from just being a demo-laden affair, Masculin’s rarities extend into charming banter on “Slogan Attempt” and live tracks from throughout the band’s history.
The second “Féminin” disc is a re-issue of the band’s second record, 1995’s La Mia Vita Violenta, which also features a selection of previously unreleased gems. Among these are radio performances at KCRW Radio in Santa Monica, “Country Song”, an original outtake from La Mia Vita Violenta, and 7-inch versions of “Harmony” and “10 Feet High”. All of these promise to hit the mark for any fan of the band. A personal favorite is “Pier Paolo”, as recorded live on KCRW radio, which features an intro from the resident radio DJ and the band themselves. The track epitomizes everything you’d hope for from a reissue: it captures the spirit of the band’s dynamic, provides a vignette of their recording context, and generally propels the listener into the middle of the action.
Perhaps the most pleasing thing about this release is the service the band seem to be doing their listeners. Not only have they unearthed unreleased gems, but they’ve made their formative, early work more accessible to the broader public. What’s more, the idea of releasing demos and endearingly coarse tracks to accompany the band’s noise rock phase is not only an insightful glimpse into the band’s creative process, but a fabulous way to complement the much-loved lo-fi work of one of our time’s premiere cult artists.
As with many of the best special edition or reissued releases that artists make available, Masculin Féminin is both a treat to pre-existing fans but also a reasonably accessible gateway into Blonde Redhead for those who may be unfamiliar with their work. By putting out a double album which features the band’s first two albums chronologically, Blonde Redhead invite one and all to delve into their catalogue right from where it all began. Hopefully this double disc reissue is the start of a beautiful musical friendship for those who purchase it without knowing much about the creative minds responsible for it.