Knife in the Water: Crosspross Bells

[10 September 2002]

By Scott Waldman

Out of chaos comes order. Before I pat myself on the back for coming up with such a great theory, I’ll apply it to a bunch of unrelated things. A recent New Yorker profile on the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, described his method of talking. Mr. Brown speaks a few normal sentences in each paragraph, and from them he delves into highly personal phrases and then half-thoughts in which he tries out ideas that he develops or loses track of. Sonic Youth’s sonically distorted music often seems to reflect a similar methodology. They harness their guitar screeches, wild drums, and galloping distortion for a magnificent effect. As far away as Sonic Youth are from James Brown, so is Knife in the Water in a different class, yet all have some skeletal current running underneath that links them. Somewhere below the sounds, ideas, notes, and chatter of these very different musicians is a well-developed sense of soulful harmony. Each musician in their own right can creatively weave a variety of sounds together in a beautiful confluence that leaves the ear open.

The melancholy-is-how-I-react-to-the-world-and-I-express-it-in-my-music theme has worn a bit thin. Knife in the Water walks that line in most of their work. So closely, in fact, that the band’s music comes across as something totally different. Songwriter Aaron Blunt can weave literature and music together as effectively as Mark Eitzel. Crosspross Bells has a reflective, pensive quality with hidden harmonies and melodies that make it anything but downtrodden. Listeners of this EP will have no idea why Knife in the Water has previously been picked up and dropped off into the alternative country feeding frenzy. (We understand, No Depression magazine, that you’re too hip to know ‘what that means’). Knife in the Water is from Austin, Texas, but their sound is as low-fi as a ringing in the ears after a Velvet Underground concert. Perhaps the mood of Crosspross Bells can be summed up by the song “Crosshair Chapel” which is nothing more than a bobbing about on waves of heroin in a world where Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music has replaced Beethoven’s Fifth. Honestly, that’s not a wholly unpleasant place to be for 26 minutes and 51 seconds.

Maybe you’d like to try out some new indie band, but don’t want to have to wear Spam T-shirts, get a mod haircut, or look down your nose at Grateful Dead rock fans. Well, Crosspross Bells is a perfect solution. Knife in the Water might be indie, but they aren’t afraid to rock in their own chaotic, yet subtle, melodic way. And they take their name from a Roman Polanski film. The first track on the new EP, “From the Catbird Seat” is proof that this band exudes as much vivacity as it does pensiveness.

This group has lyrics that one will want to spend time with and that do not immediately yield any firm point on which to launch an analysis. Oftentimes these lyrics are nestled in the cracks left by the guitar, bass, and drums. Sometimes lines such as “We were sitting in the yard / Throwing bottles at the trees / Thinking about the permafrost hanging on from last years freeze / Some things are so persistent and they just will not let go” fall out and like a bird with a broken wing, lie there shocked, helpless and vulnerable, waiting to be devoured. It may seem that lyrics such as these reek of generation-X style apathy, but they do not fall in to that drudgery. The lyrics fit in so well with the music, and even slide beneath it, that they are elevated into a delightfully bastardized version of soul music.

This EP is a great way to check out this band. Knife in the Water is not out to prove that rock ‘n’ roll will really save the world as it spirals and turns, but they’ve created a great voice in the indie rock kingdom that is worthy of your attention.

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