On their second album, the Handsome Family began their retreat away from the scrappy, electric guitar-based sound of their debut, Odessa, and started to ease into the lovely but unnerving mix of Appalachian textures and 20th century despair that would become their calling card on Milk and Scissors. While "Winnebago Skeletons" and "The Dutch Boy" still feature amped-up guitars in all their noisy glory, most of the cuts reflect a more subdued approach, with acoustic guitars and subtle steel work dominating the proceedings. Despite embracing a less-abrasive style, Brett Sparks and his spouse and musical partner, Rennie Sparks, sure didn't sound any happier than they did on their debut; Milk and Scissors features a bit less in the way of dark humor and more simple darkness, reveling in bad judgment, cruel fate, heartbreak, and simple disappointment in all its shapes and sizes. Of course, the Handsome Family's gift is in making something beautiful and compelling out of such things, and there are a handful of great songs here, especially the darkly fanciful "Amelia Earhart vs. the Dancing Bear" and the oddly catchy "Drunk by Noon," but for the most part Milk and Scissors captures them in mid-stylistic shift, and they would be a lot more compelling when they arrived on the other side.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming