Blood Red Shoes - In Time To Voices
This’ll tax the hardcore. If selflessly dismantling a format that’s served you so well to date is artistic advancement, Blood Red Shoes take leaps. Their first two albums made much from genre ingredients. Celebrating being a duo, rather than disguising it, allowed them their punk rock ethics but forced them out into the open. They looked cool and, sure, they made a beautiful racket but did they have the tunes? Box Of Secrets was a cautionary warning to ditch those doubts but Fire Like This went further. A showcase for uncommonly sophisticated song writing, it stayed true to their grunge moxie but slicked on a layer of melodic invention. The likes of ‘Don’t Ask’ and ‘One More Empty Chair’ nudged them some way ahead of their contemporaries.
The “Closer! Closer!” hook on the opening title track is a red herring. We’ve been here before – that first album was stuffed with staccato rallying calls and scabrous hooks. ‘Lost Kids’ seems to hark back similarly – yes, it echoes ‘Say Something, Say Anything’ from the first album but that’s just so much surface. Look deeper: Steven Ansell was always the stronger vocalist of the two and he’s on fire here. But Laura-Mary Carter’s been busy, too, throwing in deft counterpoints, lining her trademark muscular riffs with counterpoint arpeggios: note the breath-taking middle eight. (Set your stopwatch for 2:38 minutes in.)
‘Cold’ you will know. It comes on all jet-propelled John Bonham but its jagged, severe guitar, Laura-Mary shredding dead on the beat and nothing more, is pure Tom Morello. Its boy-girl duetting (he takes a verse, she takes a verse, they catch up with each other half way through), is a sharp counter to the pair’s usual, more straightforward harmonies.
‘Two Dead Minutes’ posits dreamscape harmonies against a delicate, barely-there backing. Just a sliver of guitar and distant drums support the quietest moment in the BRS canon. ‘Silence and the Drones’ is similarly reflective, dispensing with kinetics in favour of a brooding verse and a hammer blow hook. Anthemic hardly figures in their barbed repertoire but it suits them spectacularly well here. ‘Night Light’ concludes the mid-set calm amidst a building storm front. It’s a junkyard strum, a spare arrangement of chain gang beat and Carter broods: here's vivid for you: "A cruel breeze and the cocktails fight / This bitter taste, this bitter taste of mine…” You’re wondering at this stage if they’ve had to sell their amps part way through recording.
Then ‘Je Me Perds’ takes a road drill to your cerebral cortex. It’s Foo Fighters’ ‘White Limo’ spiked with a couple of fingers of Pixies at their most unhinged. And with that, we’re off again. ‘Stop Kicking’ nicks a key chord change from ‘Anarchy in the UK’ (you can’t miss it) and is expertly drilled Pop, as unashamedly commercial as anything they've done. (You would hope and expect they have ‘people’ working hard to get this played on the wireless.)
‘Slip Into The Blue’ drifts in on a shifting beat and, once again, shades of Pixies, Laura-Mary rolling out one of those wobbling guitar figures Joey Santiago used to call his own. ‘Down Here In The Dark’ is all stiffened beats and buzzsaw riffery, one of the few tracks that’s a real throwback to The Old Ways. ‘7 Years’ hits its stride on a bank of “oo-oo-ooh”’s, the pop classicist’s choice for a chorus of note, before a typically acerbic refrain (“These marks left by you…hold me under, like you always do…”) reminds us where we are and who we’re with.
Despite all of this, crucially, In Time To Voices is supported by a worldview that's eyes-open and steely, rather than just lazily bleak: 'Lost Kids', a year on from last summer, doesn't require much unravelling but its perspective is thoughtful and complex rather than accusing or sloganeering. The lyric booklet doesn't steer too far away from their shtick to date: if the BRS lyrical manifesto was transferred to celluloid, it would take place at night, run for no more than 80 minutes, be told from the perspective of a pair of young, disaffected lovers and take place entirely in an urban wasteland of starkly lit tower blocks and rain-soaked back streets. It almost pitches itself. But progress is all around. So yes, there's a refreshing intimacy and breadth to the barbed narratives but note also how the duo step up: they dare to test themselves. Vocally, they both shred the safety net and while Steven's always been in the skin-bashing top set, Laura-Mary unveils new chops - useful acoustic work and a bag full of potent riffs. Less crunch and battery, more tuneful fluidity. She drives the album’s twisted melodics.
Album number three from this adroit duo reeks of ambition and achievement. Taking a scythe to their rule book proves they rate artistry some way above cash. The band whose back catalogue includes a song called 'ADHD' were never going to stand still and if their curiosity loses them a portion of their fanbase, so be it. But let's hope fortune really does favour the brave because Blood Red Shoes give every indication the only game they're willing to play is the long one. Three albums in and they grow and grow and grow. Let them know you get them. And trust them with your lives.