[20 November 2003]
Knife in the Water continues its re-releases with this fine album that fits nicely alongside Cut the Cord. A favorite among bands such as And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, the debut album was perhaps one of the sleeper picks of the year when first released. British critics hailed the album while the band received very minimal attention on this side of the pond. Regardless, though, the tandem of Aaron Blount and Laura Krause have added two bonus tracks to the original effort. And it’s certainly worth the re-purchase!
Beginning with a psychedelic-cum-church-organ feel in “One Sound”, Knife in the Water start off dipping their toe in this sonic pool. It’s a deliberate building that has a great flow, mixing the sparse alt-country guitar chords with the subtle brushing of drummer Cisco Ryder. “Then anger outruns my train of thought / I’m freezing cold and I’m caught up in the bramble of my mouth”, Blount sings as the track becomes even softer, making it all the more enjoyable. If U2 were caught on a desert highway listening to nothing but the Doors, this might be what they come up with—anthemic and cinematic without being over-the-top. It’s a memorable opener that would often close out an album, not open it.
“Swallows” features the harmonies of Blount and Krause, a perfect compliment to each other. Tension is heard early in the song but never breaks out, resulting in a lovable sound and style. While it seems a tad unfinished at under three minutes, it’s understandable given the opener’s length. Traditional honky-tonk meets Gram Parsons ensues on “Seat of Pity”, with the pedal steel guitar moving to and fro throughout the song. “So tough for you to remember her / But tougher for you to forget”, they sing as if they’re in no hurry to do anything. “Married Woman” isn’t disappointing either, but the arrangement seems mired in a spacey organ that doesn’t mesh with the vocals and other instruments.
The crux of this album lies more in what the band doesn’t play than what it does. The vast empty spaces through each song are near perfect. Knife in the Water knows that less says so much more at times, and they don’t screw around with it. “Norma” is a perfect example, as the sparse arrangements sounds as if they’re sitting in a garage recording, sitting around a microphone and doing it in one take. If there’s any drawback, the songs are at times so well done that they seem a bit repetitive in spots. “Come on Cotton” is slightly different, starting with a simple guitar playing and moving into a fuller sound with pop drums and organ. The minimal rock recalls the Velvet Underground, but it’s only for an instant.
The best song of the near dozen has to be “Sent You Up”, a gorgeous track that was part of various magazine compilations in the UK. Flawless and the sort of ditty that could induce goose bumps, the ballad builds slowly into a country pop format that moves along beautifully. The pedal steel is used to full effect as well. “So I cut you into pieces / And I threw you in the river / Now the fishes they all curse me / For the poison I deliver”, the verse goes, making it sound like a murder ballad at times. Perhaps the only minor flaw is the abrupt a cappella ending. “Muse” is a near dirge that Blount takes and runs with.
The final song on the original was “Careening”, a tune that again is basically Blount with a creeping guitar that melds well with the dark imagery about possible dismemberment. Krause’s harmonies only add to the eerie luster of the effort. It also seems like a perfect bookend to the album, moving nicely for over eight minutes. As the bonus tracks go, “Slavery” is alternative rock, or the closest Knife in the Water gets to it. Melodic and with a slight resemblance to the Cure, it’s a fine addition. The same can be said for “Redbird”, despite sounding like a rough B-side. Overall, this is ideal music for long solitary walks, long solitary drives, or just days where you have no urgency to return to the daily grind.