As the old saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. "We didn’t change anything," drummer and co-vocalist Steve Ansell modestly said of his band Blood Red Shoes' latest, Fire Like This, in a recent interview. "There are still just guitars, drums and singing. I think that for us it was about getting better at what we were doing." Indeed, while his and vocalist/guitarist Laura-Mary Carter's latest outing feels like a retread in places, the Brighton duo shows definite maturation in the songwriting on their sophomore effort.
Opener Don't Ask essentially picks right up where the duo's debut, Box of Secrets, left off. Initially it's a bit underwhelming to hear Fire Like This sounding so similar to its predecessor, but like I said, initial. Firstly, hearing more of the terrific, grunge inflected garage rock from Secrets is truly a joy. There's a distinctly raw, visceral nature that Ansell and Carter give off, whether it's the fist-pumping chorus of Light It Up or the slow, melancholic build up of When We Wake. Secondly, the musicianship and songwriting really have been upped a notch. The songs are not as straight forward as they were before; they play a bit more with structure, which pays off beautifully on Keeping It Close and the album's biggest surprise, Colours Fade. Colours is a slow burning, seven minute long track which is loaded with outstanding melodies, and is able to take its time as it progresses without getting repetitive or boring - quite impressive, considering that they're only two albums in to a genre best suited for three minute blow outs. Ansell's drumming has become quite a bit more sophisticated, and his and Carter's vocal patterns (lead and backing alike) have grown more consistently striking. As good as Secrets as, it still had its weaker moments, and Fire definitely has an overall stronger sound.
The higher level of sophistication does not come at the expense of the unbridled energy that was so abundant in the debut, luckily. It Is Happening Again's almost Pixie-esque midtempo loud/quiet stomp is simultaneously crushing and lively, while Count Me Out is propelled by Ansell's alternating fast and slow drumming. Heartsink is another very well structured track; it's more dependent on the catchy vocal patterns and hooks, and lets its great, aggressive trudge take over at just the right moments. This is ultimately Fire Like This' biggest strength, the way that all the qualities from the debut come together with a sharper sense of organization. On Secrets, qualities were more assigned to each song rather than divided evenly, and there's an enormous sense of that here. The latter portion of the album does wind down nicely though, and the instrumental closer Sulphites is, like Colours, much more inventive than one might think, cleverly layering on guitar parts until it abruptly concludes.
Blood Red Shoes' latest doesn't sound like much of a step forward at first, but despite its simple and unpolished sound, Fire Like This is an intricate piece of work. It rewards repeated listens with the improvements in the band's songcraft and offers a good deal more versatility. Ansell and Carter have definitely lived up to the promise their debut made, and if this is any indication, they still have their best work ahead of them.