My first memory of Austin’s Knife in the Water came from a fine UK compilation in the late ‘90s. The tune “Sent You Up”, from the band’s Plays One Sound and Others was a mix of alt.country with just enough Britpop undertones to make it more than appealing and memorable. Now, this album is one of three that the band has reissued with a few bonus tracks added to each. But with this album, it’s hard to argue that the formula the band uses is anything but stellar. The introductory “Watch Your Back” has the sweet harmonies of vocalists Aaron Blount and Laura Krause soaring over a primal Velvets-era guitar riff. The sound has a bit of Cowboy Junkies dirge in it, but they seem to have more pop oomph than the Canadian cult band. “We are so in love that our hearts just won’t collapse”, they sing with a sweetness that is gorgeous. Almost as gorgeous as Bill McCullogh’s pedal steel guitar work over the lengthy six minutes.
“Rene” has more bite to it as the drums have a semblance to a rambling Dylan (as if that’s new!) or David Gray. Blount’s near monotone delivery is another highlight, as tales about shots fired in a bar are relived. Knife in the Water are not in any rush to get their messages across, which is all the more alluring to the listener. The wide-open “Machine to Tulsa” has the dirge in full effect in the style of groups like the Cash Brothers or Wilco on an extremely blue day. Fans of Mark Knopfler or the Notting Hillbillies would see a lot to enjoy here as the quintet works itself into a lovable musical crawl. “Party” is anything but in terms of its sound—a narrative about a Friday night that uses “speed” to wash the blues away. “We used to love ourselves / What happened to us / Now we walk like victims of mutual disgust”, Blount sings as the sparse arrangement has a certain Daniel Lanois flair.
There are several moments here that will captivate most, but “Sundown, Sundown” is perhaps the highlight of the album. A tightrope between country dirge and alt. rock, the tempo is just a trace more upbeat than Blount’s depressing outlook in the first verse. Krause acts as the perfect antidote for the depression during the chorus. This repeats itself but never loses any momentum. Ry Cooder would be proud of such a tune, although Paris, Texas would be a stretch of a comparison here. The tune builds into a grander, Spiritualized effect before wrapping up. “Nevada Spider” is a lullaby ditty that is more of a murder ballad than anything else, as Blount rhymes words together as Krause hits lovely notes time and again. “It’s alright, we all know how it ends in the needle / Sitting beside her”, Blount sings on this depressingly beautiful track.
“Young Blood in the River” is the first “rock” or “pop” song on the album, a track that combines Spoon-ish touches like handclaps and a simple arrangement to create a great melody. It moves adequately back into the slower, moody format with “Broad Daylight”, although the song takes a bit of the edgier, rougher texture from the previous tune and uses it here throughout. “Nightingales of Evelyn” could be considered the “breather” of the album, a slow organ-driven song that is a mix of slow polka and Celtic sways. It’s as if it was recorded for the carnival that never came to town. The two bonus tracks include “2 Spades”, a demo sounding tune that is a rough, b-side material tune that adds little to the original album. It improves as it goes along, but not enough to make it overtly special. “Sunset Motel” is a darker yet cheesy organ-drenched tune that is rather spooky more than anything else. If music noir is your niche, you’ve found the holy land with this band and this album.