Blood Red Shoes – Fire Like This
Brighton, England-based Steven Ansell and Laura-Mary Carter returned last year with their sophomore album Fire Like This and it burns with a cool, blue-flame intensity (as depicted by the album’s cover art) compared to the red-hot wildfire of the band’s debut, Box of Secrets, released in 2008. Both albums are still and undeservedly only available as imports in the U.S.
The blaze of vehemence and exuberance that burned through the first album is more contained here, with Steven and Laura-Mary’s sharply indignant and passionate vocal tones tempered by a touch of resignation (instead of desperation) and, dare it be said, maturity. Laura-Mary reveals a softer side with her lead vocals on “When We Wake”, her emotional fragility apparent as she forlornly draws out the words “…broken in pieces…” and “In the end is this all we can ask for?”
Blood Red Shoes still rocks out on most tracks, all riled up and restless, keeping the rhythms chunky and choppy on standouts like the defiantly-played and shouted “Light It Up”, the revved-up guitar and drums of “Don’t Ask”, and the guitar jags and slamming drums on “Keeping It Close”. Mammoth album closer “Colours Fade” revolves in a slowly pulverizing spiral of constant, visceral cymbal ‘n’ drum bash and low-end, distorted guitar chug.
All India Radio – The Silent Surf
Australian Martin Kennedy’s long-running band/project All India Radio is back with its 8th studio album of down-tempo instrumental ambience meant to soothe the savage human beast with a blend of subdued electronics, measured beats, contemplative guitars and piano notes, and touches of wordless or spoken word vocals.
It takes no time at all to slip into The Silent Surf, with the placid intro “The Bomb” featuring guest spoken-word from The Church’s Steve Kilbey. He calmly intones in his best hotel manager voice “Welcome to pleasant shores…” against Western guitar reverb accents, acoustic guitar strum, and low-key keyboard notes.
Electronics, cymbal tap, and piano notes all mesh on the briskly-paced, but still serene “Night”, where wordless male vocals float amid poignant piano notes and a subtle pull of horns. Conga drums, dynamic cymbal tap, and shining synth notes enliven the wavering guitar pattern of “Crystal Waves”. A perfectly peaceful summer’s day is transposed into song at the start of “Clouds” as it drifts softly by on a slow beat and little curls of guitar. It gathers steam mid-way with the addition of high, sighing vocals, guitar line, synth notes, and a slightly faster pace.
The ephemeral nature of the ocean’s surf is captured by the pulsing cymbal tap on “Shimmer” as solemn, drawn-out synths and delicate curls of guitar fill the air. Western guitar reverb is welcomed back on “Rippled” which also features The Church-like types of guitar lines (Is the song title a nod to “Ripple” by The Church?). Atmospheric synths hover over the proceedings, as muted organ notes and wordless male vocals build up, giving the song a ghostly, dreamy feel.
DulceSky – Invisible Empire
In the age of (dis)connection of social networking, leaking of classified information, and global news at your fingertips (but which “news” do you choose to view?), DulceSky releases Invisible Empire this March. Tthe band has created a thematic album that delves into the deception and control of the powers that be over the individual via social engineering.
Oliver Valenzuela (guitar and vocals), Daniel Valenzuela (bass), Mitchell Razon (drums and keyboards), and Brett Kocherhans (guitar and keyboards) have something to say on this message-centered album, all while wrapping their call to fix a broken system (which has been broken for a long while) in propulsive, dream-rock guitars, dynamic drumming, and Oliver’s deeply sonorous, warm vocal delivery.
While the lyrics are front ‘n’ center, they are general enough for the listener to just go with the flow and get lost in the music and not just focus on the words. A dark undertow of guitars and bass pulls through “Last Warning”, along with sizzling to piercing guitar lines as Oliver intones lyrics that could be about a relationship: “I don’t care what you think about me… / but I care about you / I care who you are / That’s where the truth lies.”
Elongated synths, clacking sticks, and a thumping drum rhythm are pinned down by the bass line on “Life As We Knew” as a mid-range and plaintive Oliver sings “The dreams once we had are disappearing while we sleep…” By the end of the track buzzing guitars break through, adding weight to the lyrics “Life as we knew is never coming back.”
Searing, metal-rock guitars, the chug of bottom-heavy bass, and a pushing beat bolster the already-strong lyrics of “You bought into lies… / You believe them… / You will get what you deserve.” on the revamped “Icon (of Distress)” that was previously on the band’s Unfamiliar EP. Oliver sings in a hazier tone on “Spies of the System” as he declares “Everything once in visions I saw / It’s coming true.” amid a steady beat and synths that wind around the distinctive bass line.
Sharp, shining guitar lines rise out of a repetitive guitar motif on “Ministry of Truth” as a softer-toned, clear-eyed Oliver takes center stage, singing the hard-to-ignore lyrics “To the people of free thought / a “thoughtcrime”, a message… / beware of the social architects / and their mass-mind controlling…” The chorus picks up the pace with heavier guitar churn and mirroring synth line. By the end of the album, the listener is left with this final thought from “The Gathering Darkness”: “There has to be a change…”
Tunabunny – self-titled
Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records
The new self-titled album by Tunabunny can be a challenging but sometimes gratifying listen due to its lo-fi, unvarnished production, discordant guitars and drums, and sweetly curdled to shouty female vocals. The first two songs showcase these qualities and how they can be shaped into two entirely different styles.
“Flowers on the Stage” starts with burning rock guitar agitation and then moves into rudimentary guitar and drum patterns that build up in intensity while dual exclaiming female vocals repeatedly yell variations of “Goddamn flowers on the stage!” “Cotton Candy Steamroller” takes the opposite tack, mixing 1960s-sounding Girl Group harmonies with roughed-up garage rock guitar and bashed cymbals and drums. The dual female vocals are present, but are lighter and more pleasant.
Tunabunny forays into Hotpants Romance territory with “When We Go Out”, kicking the girlie shouting and yelping up a notch as several gals exuberantly exclaim “They’re gonna eat up our hearts!” Constant guitar riffs and a fast drum beat propel the song to its cymbal-shimmering finish, capped off by the incisive lyrics “When we go out at night / we…stand next to people we don’t like.” Ah, such are the trials of life!
The band unplugs at the start of “Bloodstream” with acoustic guitar strum backing distant, but pushy sing-talking vocals. The contemplative tone is worn away by a grinding rock guitar line and thumping drums that appear mid-way through the song.
The darkly polished “Play Dead” is a clear winner and it replicates the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in the best way, with scintillating guitar frisson, kinetic cymbal and drum rhythms, and an acrobatic, Karen O-like female vocalist insouciantly singing “Come on out tomorrow / We can play dead / Come on out tomorrow / You can shoot your gun.” Tunabunny sounds like a totally different band on this track! “Ladykillers” (sadly, not the song by Lush) is a relief after all the sonic raucousness, with a sustained, trembling guitar line and a lighter, softer register on the lyrics “I don’t care about the women… in your bed / It’s in my head.”