It’s quite the surprise that Blood Red Shoes are actually still around, mostly because it barely felt like they were around in the first place. Box Of Secrets and Fire Like This definitely nabbed some indie cred in the second half of the 2000s, but ever since it’s been an uphill battle for continued relevance, so much so that the two albums they’ve released in the 2010s only feel like vague memories even after listening to them. It doesn’t help that the dynamic of the power duo exploded but left them at the wayside, resulting in a crawl to really get a stream of new music out there to the point where singles from this album date all the way back to 2017. Of course, it’s never really helped that Blood Red Shoes aren’t all that interesting in their own right, co-opting a rather conventional garage-rock setup with little added spice, but there’s at least hope that the mountains of adversity in their wake could be vaulted over on Get Tragic. This is their first album in five years, after all, and plenty of bands have made some drastic leaps in quality in shorter timeframes than that.
And in a pleasant twist of fate, Blood Red Shoes seem to have done the same thing. For everything that may have happened to frontwoman Laura Mary-Carter in the time away – not only moving to Los Angeles to get away from both drummer Steven Ansel and a sense of burnout, but also being involved in a motorbike accident and a breaking relationship – it’s led to a duo that feel more raring to go than seemingly ever before, now factoring electronics and darker atmospherics more heavily into the equation to balance out a rather one-dimensional garage-rock hammering. And while this is clearly the work of a band that hasn’t quite settled into their groove fully, it’s easily the best thing that Blood Red Shoes have ever done and a more compelling album than they’ve ever even hinted they’re capable of.
That’s not to oversell this by any means, but breaking out of the rigid riff-rock mould is hard to do, and Get Tragic is a fairly emphatic pivot towards something a lot seedier and overtly darker, relying less on overblown fuzz and more on seediness and an itching, constant sense of discomfort. It can lie pretty latent, but on tracks like Beverly which pairs Mary-Carter with Ed Harcourt’s creaking baritone, or Elijah with its gnarled grind that feels like the best possible place their previous scuzz could’ve gone, that tension does a lot in the greater context. It’s a far more attractive look than simply hammering out riffs at least, especially considering the general volume and fidelity of the organic instrumentation is largely intact. Here, the electronics and a more encompassing production style feel like additions rather than replacements, and that leads to the slinky, sneering bass grooves of Eye To Eye and Howl that could easily belong to a band like Garbage, or the throbbing dance-punk of Bangsar that hits with a conciseness that would’ve never previously come from this band. Even down to the vocal performance from both Mary-Carter and Ansel, there’s restraint and mystery behind the eyes that only sees that darkness further doubled down on, and bringing that seediness into more esoteric writing allows everything to come even further together in a colossal step in the right direction.
Of course, if Blood Red Shoes have proven anything this far into their career, it’s that they’re not the greatest at trying to branch out beyond what sits as the base of their current sound, and Get Tragic is no exception to this. You can easily chalk some of these up to honest mistakes or not totally grasping their new style yet, like the farty bass-boosting of Mexican Dress (even if the more textured percussion is a nice touch), or the unfortunate shapelessness that The Wytches bring to Nearer, but then there’s Find My Own Remorse, in which Clarence Clarity leads on a wistful indie-pop tangent that serves as the single spot of brightness here, and only serves to be an awkward spike in the middle of an album that does a fairly solid job of remaining steady throughout. It’s a relatively minor deviation, sure, but when Get Tragic otherwise casts a revitalised and steadfast figure, even at its lower spots, it just feels like a weird one-time juncture to go on.
Putting that aside though, Get Tragic is an impressive move for a duo that really needed to pull something like this out of the bag; it’s more contemporary without sight of their original vision, and it’s crucially more interesting and compelling in the moves it decides to make. Any roughness or dips are pretty much customary for a Blood Red Shoes album, but it’s worth appreciating how this album probably has their fewest to date, and compared to the dull, empty fare that’s come before, even then, the majority don’t seem too bad. It’s rather solid all round in fairness, and if this is a direction that Blood Red Shoes want to continue on, a late-period shake-up has delivered everything it needed to.
For fans of: Garbage, The Joy Formidable, The Wytches
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Get Tragic’ by Blood Red Shoes is released on 25th January on Jazz Life Records.