Skulls on the front and back covers and buckets of blood everywhere else—it’s gotta be either a death metal band, or, if you’re a cheeky No Depression fan, the latest from Jon Langford, right? Ah, but there is a third way: the Bloody Knives turn out to be a smart, guitarless post-punk trio from Austin, with a knack for conjuring spooky atmosphere, if not yet memorable tunes, on their debut album Blood. Armed with a singer/bassist, drummer and sound manipulator, the Knives answer the question, “What would happen if Mission of Burma kicked Roger Miller out and let both Martin Swope and Bob Shellac run wild?”
Over Blood‘s nine songs the band creates a layered sonic palette while frontman Preston Maddox’s ethereal voice floats above the fray. Even without the guitar, they’re first and foremost a rock band (though one could almost dance to “Death Blessing”): keyboards shimmer down on “Fire”, “Not Now” runs on Jake McCown’s motorik beat and “Stare Into Your Eyes”, one of the few tunes that is memorable as a song, is frantic, stressful (“Gun in my mouth / gun in your hand”) and as unresolved as a McSweeney’s Quarterly short story. Well on their way to becoming masters of tension and mood, the Bloody Knives capture what’s primal about rock—and do it without guitars. In every sense of the phrase, well-played.