For Mississippi's Water Liars, love seems more blood sport than godsend, more Antietam than Eden. The band's sparse and gritty country-tinged indie-rock has depicted relationships — coming or going, though mostly the latter — in such heartrending detail that you wonder why they even bother.
"Just one time, do what I ask/'cause I am bleeding pretty bad/and I don't want to go like that," Justin Kinkel-Schuster sings in his weathered croak on the haunting "Warpaint," one of 11 tracks that suggest love isn't just a battlefield, it's a slaughterhouse. His plea would serve as the LP's mission statement were it not for the fact that Kinkel-Schuster relies heavily on bloodletting to fuel Water Liars' songs.
He examines these tendencies more thoughtfully here, whereas Wyoming and debut Phantom Limb seemed content describing — sometimes in awkwardly graphic detail — the old tropes of touring band hook-ups and doomed love. The redemptive "I Want Blood," concedes the point, its bouncing tempo and elegiac keys belying the "darkness there beside me, feeding me lies." Other songs play with the idea that cutting yourself off from — or trying to screw your way out of — all that feeling is even more damaging.
The dour mood can suffocate even with love song-leavening like the gorgeous, finger-picked "Let It Breathe" or the power pop of "Ray Charles' Dream" (a new direction Water Liars should consider exploring further). But when they hit the sad bastard mark, as they do on the roaming troubadour acoustic shuffle "Swannanoa," or the reverb blues of "Last Escape," you can still hear what the fuss was about in the first place and why, even if their love lives are a bloody wreck, Water Liars' future isn't.