The UnLive | Album Review: Fire Like This by Blood Red Shoes
Posted on March 19, 2010 by Greg
In the 80s, I was a dorky kid who listened almost entirely to classic rock. I’m slightly less dorky now, but my real interest in modern music came from the late-80s and early 90s output of so-called alternative bands like Nine Inch Nails, Jane’s Addiction, Nirvana, Sinead O’Connor, Soundgarden, The Jesus and Mary Chain… bands that hip friends of mine played for me in High School art class before the rest of the world got in on it. Our art teacher let us bring our tapes (tapes!!!) to class; I would bring Wish You Were Here, and punky little Tina Reed would bring The Lion And The Cobra.
I had thought of college rock or alternative music as deliberately weird and inaccessible, but when faced with actually giving these artists a chance, I discovered something much weirder than I had expected: they were catchy. The Jesus and Mary Chain had just as many hooks as Aerosmith, and it sounded new and fresh and slightly dangerous to me. I realized that these new bands didn’t hate rock… they were simply trying to lead us down a different path; one that was darker and less-traveled than the NASCAR oval of endlessly-repeated classic rock that 80s mainstream radio played back then.
So it is with a mix of pleasure and trepidation that I greet the recent 90s throwback sound that is emerging in the indie rock scene. On one hand, I am glad to hear the sounds of bands I loved popping up again. On the other, it’s unsettling to see your “new music” come back around for a retread, just like the classic rock bands of the 60s did for the Baby Boomers of the 80s. I hear this retro-90s sound coming from plenty of acts these days, including The Thermals, Japandroids, Manchester Orchestra, Silversun Pickups, and now a two-piece guy-girl outfit from Brighton, England called Blood Red Shoes, whose second album — Fire Like This — was released March 1.
I have most often heard this band compared to The Kills (gritty guy-girl two-piece) and P. J. Harvey (tough/vulnerable Brit female singer). I think those comparisons are too simplistic, though BRS has traits of each band. What I hear is an original sound that is ornamented with a bunch of great 90s influences… the kit-killing drums and snarling vocals of Nirvana, the shimmer/bang guitar play of The Jesus and Mary Chain, hints of Girls Against Boys and The Pixies… hell, even a little Bjork on “When We Wake.”
But the band I would most associate them with is early-90s Sonic Youth. Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore traded off on lead vocals, some songs would simmer and then explode, others were quieter and more emotional, and some were boot-on-your-throat rock attacks. All of those elements are at play in Fire Like This and the dynamism created from the powerful duo of Steven Ansell and Laura-Mary Carter drives the record from start to finish. You can’t have a weak link in a two-piece band, and there certainly isn’t one here: Ansell and Carter can both sing, they can both write and they can both rock.
Highlights of the record are endless. “Don’t Ask,” starts the album like the first in a string of firecrackers: huge guitars, seismic tempo shifts and wailing choruses. “Light it Up,” is a nasty, Pixies-style, radio-ready treat, “It is Happening Again,” has the buzzsaw guitars of the best Girls Against Boys material, and “When We Wake,” is a haunting un-ballad that Karen-O would be proud to steal for the next Yeah Yeah Yeahs record. “Keeping It Close,” is great, “Count Me Out,” is great, “Heartsink,” is one of the best tracks on the album. 10 great songs, no filler. And while I keep mentioning other influences, Fire Like This never sounds like a decade on “shuffle.” These guys have a firm grip on their own sound.
Fire Like This is dynamic rock, scarred with shards of gritty punk. People in their 20s and younger will get a crash course in the best of the early 90s alternative scene, but with a band that still sounds fresh and modern. Those in their 30s and above will feel the warmth of familiarity mixed with the thrill of racing once again down a path less traveled.
9 of 10
–Greg from The Uncool
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