Reviews: TOPS, Blonde Redhead

Barragán reviewed.
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Barragán reviewed.
tops picture you staring

opinion byBRENDAN FRANK

TOPS, Picture You Staring

TOPS may share a label with the likes of Braids, Grimes and Majical Cloudz, but unlike those more forward-thinking acts, they draw inspiration from a long-gone era. Their sophomore effort is a slightly anemic take on disco-flecked art pop, drawing to mind the tattered DIY ethic of Ariel Pink, the happy-go-lucky outlook of Tennis, and the stylish slow-motion vignettes of Warpaint. Picture You Staring is agreeable enough to listen to, and the production, executed by the band themselves, is nuanced enough that you will pick up new details every time you listen. The problem is, when the album isn’t playing, you’ll be hard pressed to recall much of what went on.

It doesn’t help that the majority of the songs on Picture You Staring play a zero-sum game. The purring synths on “Way To Be Loved” sound great, then the clunky lyrics kick in: “Walking down the sidewalk/Is that the way that you want to be seen?”, and the narcotized tempos of “All The People Sleep” and “Driverless Passenger” are sleep-inducing, despite serviceable hooks. The best offerings here are “Blind Faze” and “2 Shy”, Fleetwood-fashioned tracks that sway playfully, celebratory in their own modest way. The rest doesn’t hit hard enough, and doesn’t even really seem like it wants to. C

Blonde Redhead, Barragán

On their ninth LP, Blonde Redhead distance themselves from the electro-heavy overlay of 2010’s curiously unfocused Penny Sparkle, swapping downtempo and baroque back in. The darker Barragán has a wiry, earthen sound and takes something of a back to basics approach. Many of the instruments were recorded with a single take, and aside from the electronics very little has been touched up in-studio.

This works both to Blonde Redhead’s advantage and to their detriment. Barragán is too laid back and assorted to imprint itself on one listen, and these ad-libbed and unrefined moments are the most interesting to revisit – but their emphasis on spontaneity occasionally prevents them from finding a decent groove or a centripetal idea. Exceptions can be found on the hushed “Dripping” and on “Mind to Be Had”, which finds the band overcompensating with a nine-minute runtime.

Of course, one of Blonde Redhead’s biggest draws remains the imperfect, enigmatic vocals of Kazu Makino. She salvages more meandering efforts like “Defeatist Anthem” and the queasy “No More Honey”, providing floating spare parts with something of a focal point. Atmospherically, Barragán falls to a part of the spectrum Blonde Redhead have never found themselves on before, but half of the songs here feel like placeholders for ideas that haven’t been fully excavated. C+