Knife in the Water

Red River

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As "Watch Your Back" makes mention of, Knife in the Water's music is just the slightest bit nauseating, not in the uncomfortable, sickening sense, but in the woozy, desert-oasis one of psychedelia. The band earned comparisons to both Spiritualized and Gram Parsons following its debut, and while those particular descriptions are stretches to a certain degree, their music certainly has a magical combination of country-gospel blues and space-rock that in short snatches echoes those touchstones. Such genre identifications don't really do the band justice, however, because their is something wonderfully peculiar about their second album, Red River, that straddles borders on the one hand and ignores them on the other. The music is as beautiful as a daydream but loaded with a harsh reality that comes across in the woeful singing of Aaron Blount and Laura Krause. Instrumentally, Krause's Hammond organ and Bill McCullough's weeping pedal steel, instead of tussling for supremacy, just sort of mix into a duet of down on our luck whining, while Blount's guitar twangs forlornly. The music is old West rugged -- both mythic and spaghetti-western -- tired and too spent to care very much whether it puts up a good appearance, and yet there is such a lovely vulnerability about it all that is unshakeable. It is cosmic, dusty, and withered but existing in a dimension of its own, and the band is throwback and unsophisticated in a modern, sophisticated way, much like Lee Hazlewood (his "Sundown, Sundown" is appropriately covered), whose '60s albums wear a type of awkward hipness that never goes out of style but is never exactly in style either. Unlike their debut, Red River was professionally recorded in the studio, but other than a moderately cleaner sound it basically builds upon the homespun and intimate quality they had already staked out. Although there is something stately, almost classical about the music, it does not feature (and did not require) dramatically different production, and the playing still lopes and wanes, retaining all of its dizzyingly inebriated quality. The songs are reined in just the slightest bit, unfolding from between four to six minutes rather than the eight and nine minute songs from their first album, but they still have protracted, soft-focus melodies that trickle slowly to their conclusions. Not everything on the album drags by in a tranquilized dirge. The murderous "Rene" gallops along at a brisk gait while Blount lets the gothic words escape from his mouth. It is the closest the band gets to gleeful on the whole album, which is a bit disconcerting considering it contains sentiments such as "to see the face of love/before I blow that face away." Despite the occasional depressing moment, though, the music is soars. While it is not a dramatic progression, the album is a stronger and more assured effort. It is intensely human and fleshly, both sinful and sincere, beautiful and malevolent.

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