Review Summary: Another sidestep, but a thoroughly enjoyable one nonetheless.
When considering musical evolution, we often assume that progression and improvement are two notions which go hand in hand. In reality, though, their relationship is far more complicated, something that Brighton rockers Blood Red Shoes have exemplified since their formation eight years ago. The duo - guitarist Laura Mary Carter and drummer Simon Ansell - have clearly made huge strides in their time together, and yet it's difficult to make a case for them having become a better band. 2010's sophomore album Fire Like This
provided a perfect demonstration, with heightened ambitions and stronger individual performances ultimately counting for little when push came to shove. Although the expansions to their sound were almost unanimously successful, there were nevertheless a handful of instances where they reverted to type, banging out songs which while by no means bad came as little more than Blood Red Shoes-by-numbers. Even more troublesome, though, was the fact that the record lacked the type of energetic kick which made predecessor Box Of Secrets
such an exhilarating listen. For all its positive traits - and there were plenty - Fire Like This
represented more of a sidestep than a telling advance, and that's something which also holds true on follow-up In Time To Voices
Whatever its overall quality, it'd be wrong to call this new record a mere continuation, as the duo have clearly made an attempt to atone for errors of the past. Wisely perhaps, they've steered well clear of the stereotypes which have undermined their development to date, while there has quite patently been a concerted effort to recapture the oomph which contributed to so much of their early success. Ansell has always played a key role in that respect, and although his input isn't quite as manic as that on Box Of Secrets
he still manages to bludgeon his drumkit like an incensed bull, all the while his partner showcases her continued improvement by delivering some of her most direct and visceral riffs yet. Producer Mike Crossey also deserves plenty of credit for his role in the re-energising process, with his crisp production job giving the record a streamlined sound while still retaining its raw garage edge. A culmination of these elements occurs on 'Je Me Perds,' a vivacious punk rock curveball and easily the most aggressive recorded moment that they've mustered thus far. It doesn't particularly fit in with the rest of the album, but succeeds emphatically in its aim, namely to shock listeners with its sheer extremity.
Thankfully, this isn't the only time that they embark on new territory, with the record containing numerous other attempts at branching out. 'The Silence And The Drones,' for instance, builds on their omnipresent grunge influence and takes it to a whole new level, with a sluggish, fuzz-drenched guitars providing a sharp contrast to their usual "bang bang bang" approach, while following track 'Night Light' also represents pastures new in that it marks their first foray into acoustic territory. Both clearly fulfil their purpose in bringing a hint of variety to proceedings, although regrettably neither are particularly interesting when judged on individual merit. Such attempts to broaden their creative horizons are admirable, but unlike its predecessor, In Time To Voices
' least familiar moments also tend to be its weakest.
One area in which they do succeed where they haven't in the past, however, is in building upon the immensely solid base that they've created, and to an extent milked with their core sound. The opening title track is an immediate example of such, with a greater emphasis on the duo's harmonising skills paying instant dividends and giving the songs a type of atmospheric depth that they've rarely threatened before. The same is true on fantastic lead single 'Cold,' which does in fact display an enhancement of their sound at practically every level. It's magnitude is that of a band making serious progress, and although it probably ranks as the strongest individual song that they've written to date, the rest of the record unfortunately can't follow suite. Indeed despite the clear growth which is displayed within its 11 tracks, this is an album which winds up being neither significantly better, nor significantly worse than either of its predecessors - it's almost as if the duo have found their level and are neither willing nor able to detach from it. Luckily though, their level has always been great, and as long as they keep producing enjoyable records, this will stand as a mere observation as opposed to criticism.