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Penny Sparkle

Penny Sparkle

September 13, 2010
4.1 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Stefan VINE VOICE on September 16, 2010
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
While I agree with some of the criticism that's been aimed at Penny Sparkle, I also think that there's a lot to like about the album. I'm not going to slam it, but I'm also not calling it a modern classic. In a nutshell, I'd say it's a good album that's nowhere near as good as what they're capable of. Here's what I like and dislike about it:

On the plus side, this really makes a beautiful late-night chill-out album, balancing between dreaminess and melancholy, but leaning more towards the latter (where e.g. their previous album "23" is more dreamy). The production is excellent, with a lot of silence allowed to stay in the songs, giving the album a similar feel to e.g. The Cure's Seventeen Seconds and Thom Yorke's solo album, which both seem to play as much with the silence between the instruments as with the actual music. (And before people start howling: yes, I realize those two albums are very different from Penny Sparkle in other respects, and I'm not making value-judgments about them here - just pointing out a similar, spare, melancholy atmosphere - another one is "100th Window" by Massive Attack, now I think of it). The beats somehow sound at the same time crisp and muted, and Kazu's vocals are lovely as ever. There's also some really gorgeous synth textures floating around in the songs, and a lot of detail that only pops out after you've heard the songs a handful of times. This is one of those albums you'll enjoy more on a good set of headphones.

On the negative - well, unfortunately I feel that the songs, especially in the middle third of the album, at times start to blend into each other a bit too much. The first two tracks are excellent, and there are a few gems to be found later on, but it starts to sound a bit samey-samey as the album winds towards the end.
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Format: Audio CD
Album of the Year? Maybe. If not that, certainly the most beautiful. One thing I can say for sure is that Blonde Redhead's latest will undoubtedly make it into my 2010 list of favorites. First and foremost, I'm no authority on the band: I know they've been around for a while and have a ton of albums I have yet to listen to, but their last 2 LPs (2007's "23" and 2004's "Misery Is A Butterfly") were outstanding. As such, I was really looking forward to "Penny Sparkle." Once I found out Van Rivers & The Subliminal Kid produced it - who also took production reigns on Fever Ray's superb debut - I couldn't wait. With that said, I'm happy to report that they transferred all the brilliant synth-tastic nuances of that album over to "Penny Sparkle." The combination of BR's finely honed songwriting with Van Rivers & The Subliminal Kid's detailed studio trickery is a college art student's dream.

Every song, from opener "Here Sometimes" to the goosebump-inducing "Spain" are rich with ethereal melodies, subtle guitar lines, layered percussion, and all manner of electronic magic. The anchor to every track however is singer Kazu Makino. Despite her noticeable accent, Makino's voice strikes an incredible balance between her powerful melodies and extremely delicate vocals. This is apparent on every song she sings on. The 2 tracks where she doesn't take lead, "Will There Be Stars" and "Black Guitar" (sung by guitarist Amedeo Pace) are still excellent - "Black Guitar" in particular, where the two alternate on the verse and chorus, is one of the best on the album: the melancholy mood sounds like some something Lennon or McCartney might've written on one of their darker days.

Similarly, the emotionally stunning "Love Or Prison", the album's centerpiece, leaves quite a lasting impression.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I can understand why opinon on this album is divided. But after having five years to digest and let it become part of the bands overall catalog rather than being "the new album" I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's their best work. I was one of the disapointed when I first heard it. But over time something about this record slowly grabbed hold of me and hasn't let go since.
Looking back on it I don't think the slow,dreamy mood of the album should have been so jarring to me when I first gave it a listen. In a way I think this album has much in common with "Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons". On "Melody" the band turned down the guitars (mostly) and showed a softer, more intimate side to their sound. It also led to a string of albums where the band somehow managed to streach their sound in new directions while still managing to retain what is essential about themselves. I love the pre-Melody releases as well but looking back on it they all seem to be a variation of a theme, while everything after it has been a singular work of art.
What I love about "Penny" is it's beatiful, haunting simplicity. Yes, it is full of colorful keyboard and guitar work, but at it's core several of the songs are quite simple. Kazu's vocal melodies are exceptionally strong on this record, and I think several of the songs could pass the "acoustic campfire guitar test" that a great song will still work even if stripped to its bare essentials (the chords, melody, and lyrics).
Something about "Penny" makes me believe that, like "Melody", it will be the beginning of a new phase for the band. Then again, the new record could be a complete departure from "Penny".
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