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September 13, 2010 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 2010-09-13

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Monday, September 13, 2010 -- 7A

No glimmer on 'Sparkle'

Art predicts Detroit

Blonde Redhead's latest
is dull, emotionless
Daily Arts Writer
If you're looking for some relatively
not-lame background music for your
next hipster yoga circle,
Blonde Redhead's Penny *
Sparkle will fit the bill
just peachily. Blonde
But that's a damn R
shame, considering the
band's status as one of the Penny Sparkle
more consistently inter- 4AD
esting outfits on the indie
shiver-pop circuit.
With past albums, Blonde Redhead has
always found innovative ways to bridge
the gap between spidery art house ten-
sion and an unadulterated pop sensibil-
ity, crafting arrangements that hover like
spectral cobras. At its best, the band is a
master at hitting eerie pockets between
lusty warmth and ghostly intrigue, waiting
to strike while subduing with deceptively
bubble-gummy melodies.
Penny Sparkle, however, finds the
group lounging around in a frustratingly
mild middle region, doling out innocuous
imelodies that are neither threatening nor
hummable. While the tracks are all har-
monically sound and pleasant enough to
listen to, Sparkle often winds up sounding
like incredibly high-end spa music, or a
candidate for the infamous "chilltronica"
"Will There Be Stars," for instance, is
like a cardboard cut-out of the band's sig-
nature creepiness, with Amedeo Pace's
watery vocals washing over cheap-sound-
ing drum pad bloops and sci-fi synths that
sound like they're on the same settings as
the ones used in the "X-Files" theme song.
Elsewhere, the music is too docile to
even sound purposefully tacky. "Penny
Sparkle" and "Love or Prison" are essen-
tiallyinterchangeable, with Kazu Makino's
wispy voice floating competently around
meditation-music synth drones without
ever really sticking.
While it's clear that the band was going
for a more subdued vibe with Sparkle,
the end result is an album that's peaceful
enough to listen to in full but too harm-

DailyArts Writer
Decades after enjoying its pinnacle as
the "Motor City," Detroit's once-great
legacy is now fading fast in the minds
of many University students. Yet a new
exhibit, "Considering the City" - hosted
by the School of Art &
Design's Work " Detroit sjig
gallery - contemplates t
the future of Detroit as
the city goes through Tuesday to
immense transforma- Saturday,i1
tions as an urban land- a.m.to4 p.m.
scape. until Oct. 8
According to the Work - Detroit
School's website, "Con-
sidering the City"
examines "the new ways of using and
interpreting urban spaces for the people
that live in them" and focuses in particu-
lar on Detroit. The exhibition invites art-
ists, designers, architects, urban planners
and social practitioners to weigh in on the
unpredictable potential Detroit holds.
Inspired by the close proximity of
Ann Arbor to Detroit, Charlie Michaels,
School of Art & Design graduate student
and curator of "Considering the City,"
centers this exhibition on the concept of
cities as "constantly shifting organisms."
"When I got here, to Ann Arbor, I was
really interested in the fact that Detroit is
so (geographically) close, but Ann Arbor
and Detroit are so different," Michaels
said. "I think there's a lot of people inAnn
Arbor or in this area that don't use the
resources that Detroit has to offer."
"Now there is ... this more real plan
to shrink Detroit and I think it's a really
important time to revisit that idea," he
Michaels is obtaining his masters of
fine arts at the University, working exten-
sively in photography. As his work dem-
onstrates, Michaels is influenced by the
dynamics of cities like Detroit.
"My own studio work and my research
for my work focuses a lot on cities and
(their) changing nature," Michaels said.
By displaying the works of various
artists who responded to the transfor-
mation of Detroit, this exhibit raises
various economic, architectural and
social issues that will inevitably shape
the city's future.
"Anything that has to do with urban
issues, socioeconomic issues, particu-
larly in challenged areas, seems to be a

real buzz topic," said Stephen Schudlich,
director of exhibitions at the Work -
Detroit gallery. "Detroit is such a ripe
study ground for that sort of process and
non-process that it just seemed ... natu-
The exhibit features an array of medi-
ums, ranging from painting and photog-
raphy to installations, literature and even
a LEGO model of Detroit.
"Considering the City" also welcomes
the responses of "people that are not con-
nected to the arts community but are
doing things that affect life in the city,"
Michaels said.
Despite the varying political, aesthet-
ic, social and economic views and atti-
tudes toward the future of Detroit, both
Michaels and Schudlich emphasized the
open-mindedness of the exhibit.
"I think it is open to interpretation and
I think that is what is exciting about it,"
Michaels said. "The debate over what
happens to Detroit next or postindustrial
cities next. There's multiple opinions,
multiple ideas of what we can do, what we
should be doing (and) what we shouldn't
be doing."
"We like to have people ... draw their
own conclusions and talk about the topic
at whatever level they choose," Schudlich
Additionally, "Considering the City"
aims to connect the various disciplines
A look at the
potential futures of
a fallen city.
that are affected by the development of
cities like Detroit, as well as an instru-
ment to hear views that speak outside of
the University community.
"We're able to bring in a dialogue from
a number of artists and creative people
that aren't associated solely with the Uni-
versity of Michigan," Schudlich said. "So
we get a lot of cross-pollination here."
Though "Considering the City" is not
based within the familiarity and com-
fort of Ann Arbor, the exhibit reaches
out toward a larger community, which
includes University students - if they
can embrace the spirit of the exhibit and
make the trek to Detroit.

less to demand repeat visits. It's the type of
record that works on a bell curve: floating
byon first listen, growingonyou steadily as
you unravel its yin-yang melodies, and then
shriveling up once you realize you'd rather
be listening to something more exciting.
"Here Sometimes" and "Not Getting
There" at least sport legitimate hooks, the
former ratcheting up a slow-burn chord
progression over an assembly-line drum
machine and the latter pitting angsty, New
Wave-y guitars against hot-and-cold synth
lines for some refreshingly edgy synth pop.
But both tracks feel strangely half-assed
and synthetic like the rest of the album,
begging for a burst of energy and conse-
Not surprisingly, the one emotionally
resonant track, "My Plants Are Dead," is
also the haziest, with swampy guitar mur-
murs hanging over a crisp trip-hop beat

like a bleary-eyed mist. The song actually
feels complete, with its crunchy founda-
tion merging seamlessly with the cloudy
instrumentals and Makino's bittersweet
vocals, emphasizing the unnaturally stag-
nant dead space on the rest of the album.
While the entirety of Sparkle is intricately
produced and fussed over, it still manages
to come off as canned and tinny, leaving
listeners to wonder if Redhead's stellar 23
would have retained the same mystique
without all the drenchy reverb.
For purists who felt that 23's lush studio
sheen was overly airbrushed and indul-
gent compared to the leaner menace of
the band's previous work (see: Misery is a
Butterfly, Melody of Certain Damaged Lem-
ons), Sparkle should offer a mildly diverting
alternative. But for anyone else, Redhead's
latest is nothing more than a well-oiled

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