“My sisters were the heavens / My brothers were the depths / Now I’m rolling into battle with a smoke between my lips,” Justin Kinkel-Schuster sings on “I Want Blood,” and it’s a presiding image on Water Liars. Joined by GR Robinson on bass, and fresh off the success of sophomore album Wyoming and the reissue of debut LP Phantom Limb – both released earlier this year – Kinkel-Schuster (vocals, guitar) and Andrew Bryant (drums, vocals) strut into this effort with their feathers out, driven by a need to create. Forget taking years to release a new album;Water Liars don’t know how to stop working. A punk aesthetic – a desire not to overdo songs until they’re shiny with emptiness – is the band’s defining feature, and it’s why their songs are filled with such raw sorrow. To call the songs here an improvement over what they’ve done before would be to sell the earlier work short: Wyoming, released in March, earned praise fromThe New York Times, Alternative Press, Penthouse, and All Music Guide, among others.
Recorded over three studio sessions in Water Valley, MS in late spring and summer, Water Liars finds the band expanding on Wyoming’s classic, soulful songwriting and warm yet heartsick expanse. The songs, written by Kinkel-Schuster and fleshed out with Bryant on the road, were tracked mostly live and exhibit diverse and divergent styles. Opener “Cannibal” sets the tone with resounding guitar and crash of drums; “I Want Blood” is a bright, resonant embodiment of the band’s determined spirit; “Let It Breathe” offers a heartrending, haunting appeal of simply guitar and vocals, as bare as it is vulnerable; “Ray Charles Dream” is a blistering take on ‘50s rock/pop; and “Swannanoa” is poignant, rolling waltz. A study in contrasts, the album captures the stark dynamics of both Water Liars’ live show – the restrained moments made all the softer by their roaring bookends – and their lyricism, all the while effortlessly towing the tenuous line of harsh and tender. For every lonesome ache, there’s a hopeful promise; for every stumble into despair, a wide-eyed reach for life’s wonder; for every broken heart, there’s one patched back together. These are songs about leaving and staying, about lost fathers and new loves, about distance and memory.