Discover more from Herb Sundays
Herb Sundays 95: Amedeo Pace [Blonde Redhead]
The NYC multi-instrumentalist/vocalist shares an international playlist of soundtracks and more.
Art by Michael Cina.
“I have been making these playlists at home which focus mostly on soundtracks and songs that calm me. Through them, it has been really fun and inspiring to learn about music I have never heard before. I have always been curious about film scores and how different instruments are used to create textures and emotions. I hope you can enjoy this playlist I made. Thank you.”
- Amedeo Pace
Amedeo Pace is an accomplished musician, composer, and arranger. The Italian-born vocalist/guitarist is one-third of the New York City band Blonde Redhead. The way some people see David Byrne bop around NYC on his bicycle, I feel that I've seen one or both of the twin Pace brothers, Amedeo and Simone, in action often. It's usually in quiet hero mode, carrying some bread or a bag of records, dressed up at a Halloween party (together), or zooming by on a motorbike on the Williamsburg Bridge while wearing a big scarf, etc.
The brothers, along with Kazu Makino celebrate 30 years as a band this year with a new album, a big tour, and a renewed sense of breezy vigor. It's a long way from their noisy roots as Sonic Youth acolytes but a mystic quality remains as they have worked through adding to their songbook as trends come and go. A palpable sense of drama hangs over their oeuvre, even when donning electronics. My faves of theirs have no consistent sound but they are all Blonde Redhead. “Hated Because of Great Qualities” (2000) ticks by gloomily while "Not Getting There" (2010) could be a Michael Mann-directed scene, good guys slowly stalking bad guys against their soundtrack in a loud nightclub, synths driven into the red.
Each Blonde Redhead album is a vivid set piece, a new hypothesis of sorts, but their unique chemistry, which they claim has scared away many would-be fourth members, is always palpable. Often Makino's voice is tucked into the mix, the attack slightly pulled back so it sort of floats in like an ominous personified fog from an illustrated children's book. I've always enjoyed their drum-heavy mix-downs where Simone's kit feels right up against you, handily throwing cubist rhythm tracks at you. Pace's guitar (and voice) is the anguished third lead that unifies, wandering with fierce devotion.
I'm a latecomer to Blonde Redhead if I’m honest. I was floated CDs from the guys at Neptune Records in Royal Oak in the late ‘90s of their earlier stuff but didn't have the palette yet to discern their sound from other things I had heard. Following up from the classic Melody Of Certain Damaged Lemons (Touch and Go, 2000) the band went into the wilderness to self-finance 2004's Misery Is A Butterfly, also produced by Guy Picciotto, and arrived at the great 4AD label which awaited new blood in a leaner era for them.
Sometimes there are records that hit you right in the throat. Misery was one of those for me and the appeal has only grown. The album's baroque glamour and doomed romance, which would show up in the work of younger bands like Beach House, really spoke directly to my post-collegiate heart. With a Cassevettes psychology and a sepia-tone color field like a folded Peter Beard photocopy that falls out of a notebook, the album evokes scribbled notes, freak shows, and magical, tragic realism.
The album remains in my faves of the decade, a world unto itself. Some albums stretch out like a pop-up fugue state for me, a blackened prism that emits just enough light through. I caught them that Fall in Detroit with Liars as support almost 19 years ago to the date. I always associate them with Fall for this reason. It's the swirling romance of the season, desperate music for desperate times.
The album soundtracked the dissolution of an on-again/off-again relationship for me, traced intermittently from high school to college and then beyond, trying to keep up when they were in New York but, never ever catching up. On one such trip, I took to the city to visit. I arrived at her apartment while she was out with friends, and I dropped my bag. I remember sitting in her apartment in a jealous haze, listening to this (on Discman I’m sure), when my eyes seized on a paperback of Sartre’s Nausea on the shelf, the black and white cover, which I quickly fell into. As cliché as it was, it felt like a wholly complete sadness in my mind. A melodramatic but hugely formative chapter in one's aesthetic sharpening. Such is the music of Blonde Redhead, harder than your heart can stand.
On that album's title cut, Amedeo's guitar snarls alongside Kazu's tone poem, while Simone pounds out an oblong nude descending a staircase-type beat. The strings rise and swirl like a swarm of bees. Kazu's protagonists, I think, have found love but it has unfurled into something sinister, but no less beautiful and alive:
Misery is a butterfly
Her heavy wings will warp your mind
With her small ugly face
And her long antenna
And her black and pink heavy wings
Remember when we found misery
We watched her, watched her spread her wings
And slowly, slowly fly around our room
And she asked for your gentle mind
The best Blonde Redhead songs don’t wonder if you're in love. They presume it. The matters at hand are what happens next, and usually consist of what’s inside you. What a terrible conundrum, the mortifying ordeal of being known. Your vulnerabilities surge and your psychology melts all around it.
While being a romantic band, Blonde Redhead also know that love is a poison, a chemistry kit with a high chance of failure. A maelstrom of insecurities, doubts, and risk that portents annihilation. The only way to be renewed.
But back to the topic at hand, Pace is as far from a herb as one can get, the band is as tasteful and cosmopolitan as it gets, but the sincerity and wonder of discovery is rooted and worldly. If you haven't watched their installment of Amoeba Record's "What's In My Bag" it's a good glimpse into the taste worlds the band inhabits.
Now 30 years into their career, the band is making some of their best music to date.
Their new album Sit Down For Dinner is miraculous, even in the fact that it exists at all. While they insist it's not a covid record, it was the pandemic that reunited them in terms of making music in their classic sense. The result feels like another era is beginning.
Opener "Snowman" is high-era BR, that bric-a-brac Simone drum kit, Amedeo guitars slithering in the whirlpool, and a magisterial vocal layering under Kazu, gothy Captain Planet summoned by rings hoisted to heaven. It's also as rewarding as ever as it pulls some of the best elements of their sound, a Brazilian breeziness and Bach-like rhapsody, but with a more scaled-back level of dynamism. The titular track allows Makino more space in the mix, she's more human here, riding spirals.
To me, Amedeo and his bandmates are some of the last actual rock stars alongside their few ‘90s brethren. The ‘60s and ‘70s paradigms have sadly already become undone by death, as well as the ‘80s for the most part, but in the tradition of the lean, American indie van years of the ‘90s, they remain vital. As their bio states:
Formed in the 1993 New York indie underground, Blonde Redhead quickly found a place on Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley’s label, Smells Like, before releasing beloved records on Touch & Go and 4AD that traced an arc from angular indie-rock to cosmopolitan art pop. The trio might have been a quintessential ’90s band, if not for the fact that they continuously kept going, growing, never confined to any era but the present.
While their adventure has taken them across genres and themes, they've retained a purity of innocence. A global gift to America, and in turn the world, unafraid to try on different guises. Second acts do exist in America, unlike the quote suggested, even third and fourths. Forever haunted, but fully present, they leave them all behind.