Over the past decade, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing veteran indie-rock acts enjoy a surprising surge in streams thanks to prime movie placements, sudden social-media virality, or inexplicable algorithmic voodoo. But the case of Blonde Redhead might be the strangest (with all due to respect to Galaxie 500). According to their Spotify stats, the New York trio’s most popular song by far—we’re talking a 65-million-stream margin—isn’t really a song at all. “For the Damaged Coda,” the closing track to 2000’s Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, is a wordless elaboration of the piano ballad “For the Damaged,” a haunting, seance-conjured apparition of a song that was pretty ghostly in the first place. But thanks to the Rick and Morty music-supervision department, “For the Damaged Coda” not only became a recurring theme on the Adult Swim series, but also the sort of heavily memed clip that’s spawned YouTube compilations and trap remixes.
There was a certain cruel irony in the fact a song that began as a time-killing lark—recorded by singer Kazu Makino while her twin-brother accomplices Amedeo and Simone Pace were sleeping at the studio—would become the defining work of a group that’s otherwise taken such a methodical approach to their craft. In the stellar seven-album run from 1995’s serrated self-titled debut to 2007’s shimmering shoegaze odyssey 23, Blonde Redhead had successfully pivoted from no-wave noisemakers to arthouse-indie auteurs, all while sustaining a highwire balance of melodic whimsy and needling tension. But that sort of frisson was in short supply on 2010’s Penny Sparkle and 2014’s Barragán, records that resembled mood boards of disparate sounds in search of songs, with little of the dramatic flair that powered the band’s previous transformations. In 2019, Makino released her first solo album, by which point Blonde Redhead had all but ground to a halt. Once the pandemic took hold, you could be forgiven for wondering if the band would still be standing on the other side of it. Arriving nine years on from their last full-length release, Sit Down for Dinner is the life-saving dose of CPR that gets this band’s oxygen flowing and blood pumping again.
While they differed in style and scope, this band’s signature works—Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, Misery Is a Butterfly, and 23—were united by a policy of swift and total immersion: Each led with a striking opening track that immediately thrust you into the album’s distinct three-dimensional sound, making it feel like you’ve been dropped into a film already in progress. Sit Down for Dinner honors that tradition with “Snowman,” which sets a deceptively languid tone with gleaming acoustic guitars and Amedeo’s beautifully sighed serenade. But an insistent rhythmic pulse—powered by percussionist Mauro Refosco—punches holes through the sparkling surface, restoring the contrast between fine-china delicacy and dark-cloud distress at the core of this band’s most resonant work.
Sit Down for Dinner is a pandemic album through and through, from its protracted, piecemeal recording process—spanning several seasons, multiple studios, and at least two continents—to its overwhelming sense of restless stasis. With life suddenly on pause, Makino was drawn to Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, a meditation on her husband John Gregory Dunne’s fatal heart attack at their dining-room table in December 2003. In this light, the phrase Sit Down for Dinner is less an invitation than a threat, and the duality of the sentiment is manifest in Makino’s two-part title-track suite, a hypnotically wistful ballad that upshifts abruptly into an accelerated drum-machine workout. “Sit down for dinner/And the life as you know, it ends/No pity,” Makino sings, quoting Didion in a tone so matter-of-fact it sounds like a merciless taunt. But as she skates atop the song’s icy-electro rhythm, the line becomes more of a seize-the-day manifesto—death can come for you at any moment, so you might as well get your rocks off while you can.
Though it goes a long way to reinstating Blonde Redhead’s singular mystique and impressionistic aura, Sit Down for Dinner is distinguished by an easygoing melodicism that, even in its darkest lyrical depths, makes it the warmest and most welcoming record in the band’s catalog. Where this band’s albums typically reflect the multicultural mosaic and avant-garde pedigree of their New York homebase, the sublime, spectral folk-rock of “Not for Me” bathes itself in a breezy West Coast ocean mist that blurs the line between ’70s gold and ’80s dream-pop. And never before has this band attempted something as unabashedly blissful as “I Thought You Should Know,” a slow-burning gospel-delic hymn that greets you with open arms and leads you down the path that connects the Velvets to Mazzy Star.
But where these contributions from Amedeo favor a more direct, open-hearted approach, Makino’s voice remains an enigmatic and beguiling instrument, investing songs like “Kiss Her Kiss Her” and “Before” with equal doses of wonder and weariness. Tellingly, just as they did 23 years ago on Melody for Certain Damaged Lemons, Blonde Redhead close Sit Down for Dinner with another arresting quasi-instrumental, “Via Savona,” that showcases Makino’s echoing incantations, but this hardly feels like some calculated ploy to piggyback on those “Damaged Coda” clicks. Rather, “Via Savona” is an enveloping ambient symphony that, depending on your vantage, could be a sign of Blonde Redhead’s creative rebirth or a requiem for their possible demise. While in the midst of making this record back in 2020, Makino told an interviewer she expected it would be “probably the last album we make together.” She may have had a change of heart since then, but should that prediction prove correct, Sit Down for Dinner is the coda this band deserves.
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