Originally from Brighton, duo Blood Red Shoes have rarely found themselves on the same continent let alone city in recent times. With one half resident in the UK and the other in Los Angeles, their focus has been split compared to their early years together some 17 years ago and various projects are now regularly undertaken in addition to their bread and butter roots as Blood Red Shoes, including Laura-Mary Carter’s solo career that recently saw the release of a debut mini album, Town Called Nothing, which dabbles in alt-country territory.
For their sixth album, Ghosts On Tape, the band – Carter plus Steven Ansell – have almost reinvented themselves, and it’s a reinvention that moves away from expectations and into their own world of intrigue. Influences here including an interest in true crime stories. It’s not quite The Blair Witch Project, but its heart is a dark one for sure, creating an eeriness that takes a stranglehold at most turns.
A big selling point of the duo is the shared vocal responsibilities they have often employed, and the sharing here is almost entirely in separate measures rather than as duets, feeling at times like a call and response duel between two protagonists as tracks veer this way and that, leaving you wondering who will take the mic next. Tellingly, Ansell’s familiarly distorted vocals seem to mostly convey a considerable level of anger, whilst Carter’s repeatedly adorn similarly singular channelled inspirations, in this case creating close Garbage comparisons in doing so.
Looking at Mr Angry first, the energetic Give Up depicts perhaps too much gloom – certainly not a great listen for the suicidal – whilst I Am Not You screams “I am nothing like you”, sounding like Six By Seven’s Chris Olley adopting his Fuck Me USA persona. Opener Comply, though, is brilliant: an ominously innocuous piano line opens the track like an observational spy thriller scene, and lyrics delve into a situation that everyone has felt like they have been living for too long now (“you’re keeping control”, “you won’t let me go outside”) – a neat trick considering the album was recorded in March 2020. The yelling of “I will not comply” leaves you in no doubt as to the feelings on show. Aside from the anger, Ansell also closes out the album on Four Two Seven and nails an inescapably dominant melody that demands attention before declaring “I’m scared to let go”.
With Carter on lead vocal, results similarly vary, but most retain the Garbage factor. Lead single Morbid Fascination is the strongest of these, feeling very powerful before synth touches towards its conclusion light up its departure. The eeriness of Murder Me follows the trend, as does Sucker which still retains an edge of darkness despite some lighter synths on show. I Lose Whatever I Own features dual vocals for once and despite that you could easily hear this on the radio and be convinced you’re listening to the new one from Shirley Manson and co. Roles are then reversed as Carter spouts lines such as “I’ll feed you to the wolves” and “I’ll make you wish you’d never been born” on the crackling Dig A Hole.
Interspersed amongst the tracks are three interludes that add little, sounding like leftover sounds from the preceding tracks. But aside from these inclusions, Ghosts On Tape is a strong effort. They’re not darlings of the press and never have been but it’s somewhat baffling why Blood Red Shoes are not more widely appreciated; there’s very little here to dislike, so stick it on loud, turn off the lights and sit back and enjoy.