Published on February 12th, 2014 | by TLV News0
Water Liars Have “Come a Long, Long Way From Nowhere” – Third Album Out Now
Article by Rebecca Long, Photos by Maggie Huber
On the fourth of this month, Mississippi band Water Liars released their third (and arguably best) album. The band takes its name from the first story in the first collection released by the late, great Mississippi writer Barry Hannah. Much like the protagonists in Hannah’s story, Justin Kinkel-Schuster (lead vocals, guitar), Andrew Bryant (drums, otherworldly harmonies), and G.R. Robinson (bass) tell the truth like it is, and they invite kindred souls to listen in.
Kinkel-Schuster is originally from St. Louis where he headed the band Theodore, but has been playing music with Bryant since 2011. Andrew Bryant has lived in the Oxford and Bruce areas of North Mississippi all his life—many of you may have memories him playing around town as recently as 2010 (we remember a great show at Two Stick when it was still on Harrison Avenue). Bryant’s solo album Galilee, released in August 2009, was named the #2 “Memphis Music” album by Commercial Appeal at the end of 2009.
The band is definitely Southern; it’s really difficult to hide a steeped-in-sweet-tea Mississippi accent. There is a lot of country influence in their music, but one shouldn’t try to pin them down to a category without the descriptor “Rock.” Their influences are myriad but include bands like Nirvana and Black Flag. In a 2013 interview with Sarah Reddick for The Local Voice, Kinkel-Schuster said, “After hating it, I figured out what country music was. And now it’s a constant battle between punk and country.” Not to worry—Water Liars sound nothing like the “Country” you’ll hear on the radio if you turn on the FM dial. In fact, to my ears, nothing else sounds like Water Liars, and it’s refreshing to be able to say that. I started listening to this album skeptically, having found Wyoming too bleak for a woman who’s already a half-time pessimist. But by the end of the album I was in love — with this band, with Andrew Bryant’s percussion skills, G.R. Robinson’s driving bass lines, and Justin Kinkel-Schuster’s reflective mind and bare heart.
Water Liars’ first effort, Phantom Limb, was recorded on a whim in a matter of days in Pittsboro, Mississippi, and debuted in March of 2012. A year later, on March 5, 2013, the then-duo of Bryant and Kinkel-Schuster released their sophomore album Wyoming to critical acclaim. People really love and have lauded this stripped-down, honest album; it was the best-selling record of 2013 at Oxford’s own The End Of All Music.
Eleven months after the release of Wyoming, Water Liars’ fanbase continues to grow as the band releases its eponymous third album, arguably their best release to date. Recorded at Dial Back Sound in Water Valley and mixed by Bruce Watson and Bronson Tew, this record just sounds good. Until recently, I hadn’t listened to Wyoming in its entirety but a few times. Water Liars, on the other hand, has literally been on repeat since the CD arrived in the office.
The new album starts off with what I consider to be one of Water Liars’ strongest songs; “Cannibal” opens with a guitar riff reminiscent of 90’s grunge which leads into Kinkel-Schuster’s first words on this new record: “When you taste the flesh and sweat of the one that you love / Do you feel like a cannibal, like an animal, just like a flood?” That’s just the beginning of this sexy album. “Let It Breathe” is a finger-pickin’ love song, just Kinkel-Schuster’s handsomely haunting voice and his guitar. The opening lines of the song strike more than one chord with my heart: There’s a room inside my heart no one ever goes. It’s been boarded up and locked for years, and everything is gone. Then you come along and cut yourself a key, swept the floors and opened all the windows, said ‘Baby, let it breathe.’ “Let It Breathe” brings to mind Bob Dylan’s finger-picking style, but (though I love Dylan’s work) I think Kinkel-Schuster’s vocals take this already-beautiful song to another level that Dylan’s nasally twang could never pull off.
There’s the slower “Swannanoa,” about heartbreak and being lonesome in the aftermath, regardless of what happens. Kinkel-Schuster redeems his listeners’ potential sadness when he reminds us, I looked death in the face, but it was only my father. If I’d known all along, I wouldn’t have bothered with being afraid, with being a coward. Another song that starts slowly is “Last Escape,” though this tricky (and terrific) tune speeds up and gets heavier after my favorite line on the record: The songs keeping me awake are the songs that set my heart to break. The songs keeping ME awake? This album’s “Vespers” and “Turn Me On” (probably the sexiest song to come out of Mississippi since Blue Mountain’s “70’s Song”).
Water Liars is rife with faster tracks, too. “War Paint,” the album’s second song, features the line, I wanna see just how it is when you play the red but the black wins, sung just before a lilting strain leads back into distorted electric guitar. “Pulp” has been one of my favorite tracks since the first listen. “I Want Blood” and “Ray Charles Dream” are the two contenders for my favorite song on this album. “I Want Blood” starts with an infectious drumbeat by Bryant, kindled by Kinkel-Schuster’s reflective opening lines, Come a long, long way from nowhere with armor made from nothing but some songs I learned along the way from some strangers. Now strange lands hold no fear for me, cause in every place and company, no matter who was near to me I’ve been a stranger. Maybe what happened in the short span between Wyoming and Water Liars could also be summed up with words from “I Want Blood”: I became an army when I finally got to dealing with the darkness there beside me feeding me lies. Kinkel-Schuster sings the refrain, I want blood, I want blood all the time. Well, I want to listen to “I Want Blood” all the time. “Ray Charles Dream” reportedly came to Kinkel-Schuster in a dream, and it is (pun intended) a dreamy ditty—it’s poppy and catchy and danceable. The track happily reminds us of something Dead Gaze would write; it’s a rock-n-roll love song.
The band has evolved in the past eleven months—not only the fuller sound from the added bass line, but maybe the message has changed a little. “Water Liars,” says Kinkel-Schuster in an interview with American Songwriter, “Is a record about trying to live and love and earn a living in times and places that don’t make it easy on anybody. It’s about trying to handle the bad times that nobody escapes and take care of the good times as long as they last. It’s us trying to tell about the outskirts of America that we’ve seen, lived through and live in, and get it right, for once if not for all.”