Aquarian Blood Digs Deeper With Decoys 

click to enlarge decoys_cover.jpg
Last fall, we reviewed a record that marked an abrupt change of pace for one-time psych-punks Aquarian Blood. A Love That Leads To War was a an acoustic masterpiece of sorts, full of gentle guitar ostinatos and sing-song melodies; yet, like a friend with a thousand-yard stare, the calmness was unnerving. The songs seemed to deal with surviving an unhinged life, not to mention the manipulative opportunists that always show up to unscrew the hinges a little more.

Yet through all the bleakness of the scenarios depicted therein, the voice of a reliable narrator peeked through. The commentary on traumatized lives was a thread with which to find one's way through the cast of users, losers, and abusers; and it somehow helped the listener feel that yesterday's trauma was contained. Lessons were learned, and the hard-won wisdom of the songs was the pay off.

This year, the band released a sequel of sorts on Bandcamp, Decoys. The seven song EP is cut from the same cloth as A Love That Leads To War, but there are important differences. Yes, the lilting folk guitar still dominates, matched with blunt lyrics and sing-song melodies as before. But many of the other flourishes that marked the album are absent this time around. Aside from a few tasty synthesizer parts, the already sparse production of War has been pared down even further. Whereas the full-length sparkled with beats, synths, and other overdubs in a deceptively well-crafted production, Decoys is full of space. Sometimes all you hear is the guitar and the voices of partners J.B. and Laurel Horrell.

The result is even bleaker than the previous album. Somehow, the reassuring voice of the narrator who has come to terms with the trauma, or observed it from afar, is not so reassuring anymore. It almost feels like a prequel to War, where relationships and dependencies are hinted at as they first emerge, with a sense of foreboding: Traumas evoked in the LP seem to be germinating in Decoys' simplest actions.

"Slipping on the tiles and they're bleeding on the door/Leave them lying in their places laughing on the floor," begins the song "Maybe If What," and you sense that this won't end well. But the song never reveals an end. "You did the things you said you had to do/Made us all uncomfortable and feel bad," sings J.B. in "Cuz You Had To," perfectly evoking that feeling of a time-bomb ticking that some people inspire. But what became of the time bomb? Perhaps it's revealed in the songs on War.

In a way, the cover of Decoys captures that greater sense of isolation, that lack of resolution: J.B. sits alone in a room, with the picture of a child uncannily perched on the wall. There's a feeling here of being on the edge of the precipice, just before someone innocently tumbles down onto the jagged rocks below. 

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