Blonde Redhead's latest came together by accident

If Kazu Makino's vocals sound a little overpowering in the mix on the latest Blonde Redhead disc, don't blame the singer. Instead, point the finger at the father of her musical partners, the twins Amedeo and Simone Pace.

"My dad loves music," says guitarist Amedeo, reached at the Manhattan apartment he shares with Makino. "He comments on it, and he tells me what he likes and what he doesn't like. When we finished our new album, I played it for him and he said he thought Kazu's vocals were too soft. So in the mastering we chose all the louder-vocal versions."

Considering that Makino's high-pitched caterwaul makes some listeners check for exit signs when a Blonde Redhead album comes on, this move might have been a risky one. But the trio has never worried about such things. Since meeting in New York more than a decade ago, they have created their own language--jazzy and intricate one moment, chaotic and cathartic the next--out of the collision between the Paces' formal training (at the Berklee College of Music) and Makino's inspired amateurism.

Even with Makino turned up, Misery Is a Butterfly may be the band's most accessible album--at least on the surface. The grittier guitar moments that drew early comparisons to Sonic Youth have here been replaced by cello and clavinet, for instance. The band's sense of the dramatic remains intact, however, and the songs are anything but easy listening. The icy opener "Elephant Woman" recalls Ennio Morricone's eerie work on Exorcist II, while the frighteningly vivid, Amedeo-sung "Man Falling" could have been written after viewing Roman Polanski's tale of apartment madness, The Tenant. And "Magic Mountain", a tune inspired by the 1924 Thomas Mann novel about a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps, sounds like something that might be heard in a haunted nursery school.

Fittingly, Makino was given Mann's book while recovering from pneumonia a couple of years ago. But it was her horse-riding accident a year later that delayed the release of Misery Is a Butterfly, the band's first full-length since 2000's Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons.

"In some ways it [the accident] was a blessing in disguise because it gave us a chance to work on the record more deeply," Amedeo recalls. "We were forced to live with it a while longer. But I feel terrible for Kazu's accident. She broke her jaw and her teeth, which affected her singing at first because she couldn't open her mouth as wide and she was lisping a little bit."

Makino has fully recovered, and should have no trouble hitting the high notes when the band returns to the Commodore on Friday (March 26). If it's anything like Blonde Redhead's previous shows here, expect a full house thanks to the group's reputation for intense live performances--and, oddly enough, its avoidance of media hype.

"Everything we've done has been pretty limited as far as publicity," Amedeo says. "I think our personalities have determined that. We've never been big talkers; we never like to have too many pictures taken. We're doing it now, and we're kind of suffering through it a little bit. But the mystique, if there is one, may just be privacy and shyness. And the music is what it is. There's nothing calculated about it."