Comprised of St. Louis-based singer/songwriter Justin Kinkel-Schuster (Theodore) and Oxford, Mississippi-based producer and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bryant, Water Liars introduce themselves with a decidedly impromptu full-length debut at the intersection of blues, country, and folk. The pair headed to Pittsboro, Mississippi on a whim and with one microphone and three days' worth of recording came out with Phantom Limb. Centered around bare-bones guitar and boot-stomping drum instrumentation along with Kinkel-Schuster's weary vocals (backed by Bryant) and found sounds like wind blowing and faulty speakers buzzing, the album evokes late, lonely nights and meaningful mementos left behind. Though a solemn sadness permeates throughout, familiar sounds, particularly on the first half, provide some levity: opener "$100" offers a surprising start with a sludgy Melvins-like riff, bleeding into an early My Morning Jacket-styled pop-folk excursion plus reverb, only to return to the sludge; the autumnal "Dog Eaten" and "Rest" are bittersweet and just eccentric enough to sound like a cross between 2011 guitar pop favorites Real Estate and psychedelic folk-rocker Skip Spence; and "Whoa Back" makes no bones about borrowing liberally from the chord progression of Neil Young's "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere," which is forgivable given that both songs discuss restlessness (though the vacillating "Whoa Back" narrator is certainly at odds with the settled "Nowhere" man). The back half of Phantom Limb reaches out further: "Short Hair" lays out the 12-bar blues; "It Is Well with My Soul" is sacred meets profane, with Kinkel-Schuster austerely singing the hymn "It Is Well" following a sample of British occultist Aleister Crowley's recitation of his poem "Atomic Ritual"; and "On the Day" ponders one's time of death through macabre imagery ("...and the ones who have loved me will suddenly feel something cold") and a field recording of a train and its passengers in the distance. Clearly, Water Liars' sound is hard to pin down, but the highly personal and affecting feel of Phantom Limb offers moments we can all relate to at one time or another.
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AllMusic Review by Chrysta Cherrie