London Highbury Garage

They seem to be playing by sheer instinct, purging something ugly and primal...

A Japanese woman is groping her way across the stage with her eyes squeezed shut, shrieking at glass-shattering pitch. She is bookended by twin Italian men, one twisting an atonal racket out of a detuned guitar, the other (distinguished, this time, by a beard) bashing out a jerky, restless rhythm on drums. They seem to be playing by sheer instinct, purging something ugly and primal. Once, this would have been New York art-noise trio [a]Blonde Redhead[/a] at their most accessible – but tonight, it’s their only oblique moment.

[a]Blonde Redhead[/a]’s sound – an angular, urgent take on [a]Sonic Youth[/a]’s guitar experimentation and Fugazi‘s twitchy stop-start dynamics – relies on an immaculate tension between the three members. Lyrically, the songs revolve around their relationships with one another (co-vocalists Kazu Makino and Amadeo Pace were/are a couple), creating an insular, highly charged atmosphere. The metronymic repetition that defined much of their earlier material only deepened the effect of claustrophobia and meditative obsessiveness, but their latest (fifth) album ‘Melody Of Certain Damaged Lemons’ opens out onto a different, more expansive, view. Now, [a]Blonde Redhead[/a] are eager to demonstrate that they are as fond of the neat pop hook as they are of mannered math-core – and they are equally as adept (and affecting) at both.

Their new penchant for exuberant melody is perhaps best embodied in the handclaps and catchy chorus of ‘In Particular’ (its line “everyone else is really boring” being particularly prescient), and their development of subtlety and grace is eloquently revealed in ‘For The Damaged’, which Kazu sings unaccompanied save for piano.

Of course, there are still the off-key rants and gnarled, furious noisemaking of earlier records – ‘Missile ++’ is like aural acupuncture, and the pulsing ‘Water’ is a wash of clamouring, nihilistic dissonance – but for the most part, this set acts as an intro to a much wiser, more sophisticated [a]Blonde Redhead[/a]. One with less art, perhaps, but more heart.