The fuzzy crunch of distortion and the explosive combination of the bass and snare drums has lead many astray. Nothing says “Hell yes!” like an apocalyptic guitar riff and a primal one-two rhythm. Blood Red Shoes is another of the countless bands who have fallen prey to the allure of that apparently ever-expressive formula. The bare-bones rock fundamentalism of a band with two members—here, guitar and drums—lend themselves to simplicity and energy but also simplemindedness and shallow flailing. There is plenty of fire on Fire Like This, their second album, but not a whole lot of flame.
Laura-Mary Carter, guitarist, and Steven Ansell, drummer, are based in Brighton, England. According to their website the two were only acquaintances when they started Blood Red Shoes, but they quickly struck a chord (if you’ll excuse the pun) as their musical ideas converged. They’ve released a string of singles and EPs and they got a break when “It’s Getting Boring by the Seaside”, from their first effort Box of Secrets was featured on the punk-for-our-times Scott Pilgrim soundtrack.
It was a fitting inclusion, since Blood Red Shoes captures in many ways the sound of Rock ‘n’ Roll in the 21st century. Equal parts moody, resentful, and victorious, Fire Like This evokes Bloc Party, the Futureheads and Death from Above 1979. It’s sophisticated enough to evade comparisons to Sum 41 and raw enough to draw praise from critics and thoughtful listeners looking for a good time.
There’s no denying that what they do, they do well. “Heartsink”, for example, hits the sweet spot with a low, coiling guitar line and a rousing chorus. “Keeping It Close” goes straight for the throat. The band opens with the meat of the song—a riff that drops like a poised roller-coaster and a thumping, admittedly effective rhythm that an eight-year-old with a drum kit could probably reproduce. From there on in, it’s a matter of waiting for the ‘good part’ to come inevitably back around. After a few listens one is left wondering if all the breathless buildup of every verse is really worth it.
Then there’s the open-faced prettiness of a song like “Follow the Lines”, which links Blood Red Shoes to the poppier side of the indie punk continuum. Indeed, there are moments throughout Fire Like This when the group’s writing and singing make surprise appearances, like promising cameos in a b-movie horror flick. As gratifying as they are, any depth they carry is usually spoiled by the general atmosphere of dreary angst. Carter sings on “Follow the Lines”: “Dancing with the lights on / Shadows in my reflection”. Awkward phrasing and overbearing production make the already-ridiculous imagery eye-roll worthy.
The vocal hooks and guitar voltage are enough to satisfy anybody with an adrenaline rush looking for a quick fix, but Fire Like This doesn’t have the grit or the sweetness for the long haul. You can only take so much of any kind of fire before you want to hear something new.