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Postal Service, Blonde Redhead deliver

Matthew Solarski | Thursday, March 24, 2005

The little side-project that could, Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello’s The Postal Service, seems more ubiquitous than the “LOVE” stamp these days. A full two years after the largely unheralded release of full-length “Give Up,” Sub Pop is still dangling aural carrots before the ears of moonstruck listeners eager for new material.Interestingly, it opted to press “We Will Become Silhouettes” as the third single off of “Give Up.” The track, a sunny, almost insouciant account of nuclear holocaust (and a sing-a-long, no less), was chosen over more distinct material like the Human League-inspired duet “Nothing Better,” the heartfelt “Clark Gable” or even crowd-favorite “Brand New Colony.”Nonetheless, “We Will Become Silhouettes” sounds as fresh as ever, removed from its context nestled toward the center of “Give Up.” The song manages superficial charm with its lithe electronics, while the dialectic created between lyrical content and delivery is nothing short of a postmodern masterstroke. The gem here is “Be Still My Heart,” a thoroughly satisfying non-album track that is on par with the finest moments on “Give Up.” Gibbard’s characteristic thrift-shop romanticism is in top form as he beseeches his amorous organ against overreaction, for “this could be a brand new start / with you.” If “Be Still” proves indicative of the material on the inevitable sophomore effort, Postal Service fans have good reason to rejoice.After two solid numbers and a passable remix of “Nothing Better,” Matthew Dear’s remix of “Silhouettes” comes as something of a disappointment. While a decent rendition in its own right, the track contains virtually none of Dear’s signature moves – the clip-clop beats and layered, looped vocals that have made him a preeminent presence in techno. In place of blips and beeps Dear provides a sparse arrangement centered upon a strummed acoustic guitar loop. It works, perhaps, on a subversive level, but falls flat on its face on the dance floor.

Blonde Redhead dazzles with “Butterflies”Having graced listeners with the mesmerizing “Misery Is a Butterfly” just last spring, it comes as a most welcome surprise to find a follow-up EP on shelves during this season of love and flowers. “The Secret Society of Butterflies” collects the b-sides from the New York-based art rock trio’s UK Singles, including a new song and renditions of three of “Misery”‘s standouts. Also included on this 4AD release are two music videos, for “Equus” and “Melody.”Blonde Redhead treats the eyes as well as the ears, adorning this release with an exquisite photo collage cover that perfectly compliments the aesthetic standards set by “Misery”‘s gorgeous packaging. The images also testify to the sounds ensconced within, a kaleidoscopic melding of the band’s early distortion-laden leanings and a newfound penchant for the baroque and the cinematic. The result, a dazzling neo-orchestral concoction, at times eerie, and continually mystifying”Butterflies” opens with a new version of “Messenger,” featuring vocals from David Sylvian, one-time frontman for 80’s glam rock icons, Japan. Sylvian does swift justice to Blonde Redhead’s words, lending the band a folky quality that distinguishes it from the sophisticated musical arrangement and breeds cohesion through contrast. Listeners are next treated to a new song, “Tons Confession,” a hypnotic number constructed from warbling guitars layered over spectral synthesizer tones that recall Boards of Canada. Blonde Redhead rounds out this stellar release with a French version of “Melody” and an alternate rendition of “Misery is a Butterfly”‘s title track.As though they were culled from a music box in a dust-bedecked attic, atop an old Victorian mansion in which the notion of misery itself was conceived, the four songs here are bound to haunt even the most world-weary of listeners.