Sixth album from “Brighton’s Loudest Duo” – Blood Red Shoes – a successful mélange of pop, rock, grunge, punk and electronica.
Release Date: 14th January 2022
Label: Velveteen Records
Formats: CD / Vinyl / Cassette / Download / Stream
We’re developing quite a fondness here at At The Barrier for Blood Red Shoes, the Brighton duo that have transplanted themselves to the sunnier climes of Los Angeles. Just last month we had the pleasure of reviewing Town Called Nothing, the solo debut from Laura-Mary Carter – the duo’s female half – and now, hot on the heels of that remarkable product, comes the team’s sixth studio album, the appropriately-titled Ghosts On Tape.
I say “appropriately titled” because ghostliness deeply pervades the sonic landscape of this album from beginning to end. Described as “An album for outsiders that enters a dark and unsettling new world… Musically and emotionally their most mature work, it is a complex, imaginative and gothic development of the Blood Red Shoes sound,” and that’s a description that I can buy into. As Steven Ansell, the male half the duo explains: “Ultimately, this album is an invitation. It’s us saying, this is our world, these are our darkest thoughts and feelings – our ghosts – caught on tape.”
And there’s certainly plenty here to unsettle the unwary listener. As the album’s press release says, many of the songs here are told in character and explore the dark psyche of those at the ‘pinnacle of outsiderdom’: serial killers. But don’t be put off – Ghosts On Tape is a triumph. The subject matter may be dark, but the duo have delivered a set of tunes that take a wide range of musical styles and genres and mix them together to achieve a highly listenable album – a hugely successful mélange of pop, rock, grunge, punk and electronica.
For anyone unfamiliar with the name and music of Blood Red Shoes, a bit of background is probably in order. Billing themselves as “Brighton’s loudest duo,” Blood Red Shoes formed in Brighton, England, in 2004. They took their name from an incident during the filming of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical, Flying Down to Rio, when, after multiple takes of a dance scene, Ginger found that she had developed blisters on her feet and that the blood from the bleeding blisters had seeped into her white satin shoes. Now both based in LA, Laura and Steven have both been diverted with side projects over the past few years – Laura with her popular podcast Never Meet Your Idols and, more recently, with the Town Called Nothing solo project – and Steven with writing and producing music for the likes of Circe, ARXX, Aiko and XCerts. Thankfully, the pair were able to get back together in early 2020 to write and record Ghosts On Tape and now, at last, here it is.
Described as “a discordant piano epic,” opening track Comply sends the album off along its unsettling route. The song builds eerily and incessantly to an insistent, plodding drumbeat. Steven’s impassioned vocals are heavily distorted, particularly as song reaches its “And we won’t comply” crescendo/climax. It’s a horror movie in sound that makes the listener wonder what’s going to come next….
…And what does come next is Morbid Fascination, the album’s first single and one of its truly outstanding tracks. The song has been described as being “Tears For Fears indebted” and that is, indeed, the case. Richly electronic, with soaring synths, a genuine 80s rhythm and a great vocal from Laura, Morbid Fascination is a track that deserves a wide audience. We’re treated to a further contrast in styles with the crashing, heavy Murder Me. Guitars and synths are complemented by a heavy electro drumbeat and Laura continues the album’s ghostly theme with a sinister, cynical vocal delivery.
An interesting feature of Ghosts On Tape is the use of short, 36-second bridge passages to link tracks together. The device is used three times during the course of the album using sounds that variously include blasts of static, white noise, ghostly vocal sounds and the sound of a manic, aggravated swarm of bees. It works, too! The first such passage, disturbingly titled (I’ve been watching you) links Murder Me to the excellent Give Up. A song in two parts, Give Up starts life as a fast, urgent, punk song with a vocal line that Steven spits out in the best tradition of ’77, before, at the song’s midpoint, taking the form of broody, simmering synthscape that slowly bursts into vibrant bright life – it’s another of the album’s numerous highlights.
Laura brings a dose of real attitude into her delivery of Sucker, another great song that mixes that delicious blend of pop, grunge and electronics, before Begging heads off in a somewhat different direction. Over an insistent, slightly discordant rock and roil guitar riff and vivid percussion, Laura excels once again with a vocal that oozes intimacy and vulnerability. Another short bridge passages moves us on to I Am Not You – more heavy distortion from Steven and, perhaps, the most straight-ahead punk song on the album.
The grungy Dig A Hole is laced with guitar riffage and background phasing, as Laura unsettles once again with a lyric that expresses her intention to dig her victim’s grave. Yet another album highlight follows with the surging I Lose Whatever I Own – another wonderful fusion of electronica and grunge before the third and final bridge sequence brings us to the album’s closing track, the haunting Four Two Seven. Described as “a personal take on the act of holding onto the hurt of a broken relationship because the hurt is the only shred of it that you have left,” Four Two Seven is, arguably, the most engaging and intriguing song on the album. Delivered in four distinct movements, the sound switches between battering percussion and sweet synth and provides a fabulous ending to a breathtaking album.
Ghosts On Tape has already been lauded as “The sound of a unified and confident duo who know exactly who they are, even if the wider world doesn’t really get it. The sound of two people who have spent their entire adult lives making music together and who, more than ever, are finding new pathways for their creativity. And that is exactly what I would have said, if I hadn’t been beaten to it.
If any of the above has whetted your appetite for a taste of Blood Red Shoes, you may be interested to know that the duo are just about to embark on a short UK tour that visits venues pretty well all around the country. Details of the tour itinerary are available here.
Watch the Official video to Morbid Fascination – the album’s first single – here: