Blood Red Shoes fourth album opens with the instrumental track ‘Welcome Home’ which I like to think of as the sound of the band settling into the rented warehouse space in Berlin where they lived for several months last year recording the new album. Singer/drummer Steve Ansell explains the freedom they found themselves in after the decision to self-produce their third album; “no producer, no engineer, no A&R people, just us two in a big concrete room in Kreuzberg, jamming and recording our songs whenever we wanted, how we wanted with nobody to answer to except ourselves.”
Prior to this eponymous release the band have regularly worked with Mike Crossey who produced Arctic monkeys début single and first two albums, but they felt their last record, ‘In Time To Voices’ was almost too perfect and wanted to get back to their roots and some of the rawness and edge that defines their sound. The second track on the album ‘Everything All At Once’ certainly showcases this approach, it’s a real banger and a bit of a mission statement for the rest of the album with it’s hedonistic agenda, perhaps inspired by the crazy Berlin nights on offer.
The band talk about having widened the sound palette for this album, having previously stuck to the formula of two vocals, drums and guitar as much as possible on record as well as onstage to ensure they could deliver the songs live. On a first listen is sounds like they haven’t deviated too far from that blueprint, although the drums are beefier and the guitar sounds layered, thick and fuzzy, you seldom hear a bass sound that couldn’t be the result of a pitchshifter combined with the main guitar line. As you delve further into the album you become aware of some of the lovely subtle layers – there’s a cool atmospheric synth sound at the start of ‘Stranger’ and as it builds to an epic close it sounds like there might be some trumpets (or something tonally similar) at play in the distance.
They’ve made some great choices with the vocals as well. To my ears Laura-Mary is at her best when she’s soft and seductive which contrast really well with Steve when he’s raw and aggressive. Both are fine, versatile singers and they have used every option available to them with those voices; harmonies, all sorts of layering, slapback delay and gritty distortion; keeping the album interesting throughout. I think their voices and their skill with a melody gives Blood Red Shoes their real edge. Mix engineer John Agnello has done a fine job putting the final sheen on this album, and it’s interesting to note his roots are with acts like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jnr, as musically Blood Red Shoes tend to recall American alternative rock and grunge acts. Still there’s a Britishness in those vocals which is inescapable, like a leaner, punchier Elastica.
The songs already released to the public are pulsating and powerful, ‘The Perfect Mess’ was revealed to fans through a clever campaign, hiding 10 QR codes in 10 different cities. It opens with a riff that reminds me, partly because of the crazy fuzz-guitar effect, of Le Tigre’s single ‘Deceptacon’ but the end result is far more polished. ‘An Animal’ is a pulsating, riff-driven romp with a hell of a chorus. A song about unleashing the animal ‘coiled like a spring’ that lies inside most of us, trapped in uniforms, denying our animal nature. It continues the overlying theme of the album: a new sense of wild freedom which the band are relishing, in spite (or maybe because of) the threat of manic danger that comes with it. This is perfectly illustrated by the ‘Animal’ music video, but I won’t ruin it for you, just scroll down and watch it!
Overall the album sounds comfortable and confident and certainly worthy of the eponymous title, especially considering how much of themselves Steve Ansell and Laura Mary Carter must have poured into producing for the first time. They’ve really pulled it off and I hope this album helps catapult them to even greater success in the coming year. I sense another world tour coming on, let’s hope they don’t forget about us back home in Brighton!