When beloved ragged folk/postmodern blues combo Theodore quietly dissolved in the fall of 2011, St. Louis lost one of its finest bands in recent memory. Across three records, an EP and countless, frequently stunning live shows, the band stretched its alt-country origins into something dark, wild and mangy. But all things must pass, and two new groups have surfaced from the split: Singer and guitarist Justin Kinkel-Schuster formed Water Liars with drummer Andrew Bryant, and the rest of Theodore morphed into Demonlover, which recently made its first public outing. The songs on Phantom Limb were recorded on a whim over a few days in Pittsboro, Mississippi before Theodore's dissolution, and the magic contained in these one-off recordings has, for now, become Kinkel-Schuster's main project. It's a logical second act that jibes nicely with his established body of work — a songwriter this good doesn't need to reinvent his act, and the pared-down setting keeps the focus on the words while offering a suitably rusty backdrop.
The connections to Kinkel-Schuster's old band aren't especially hard to hear. His songwriting style remains focused on damnable human frailty and the ghosts that hang on our shoulders, and his sweetly simple guitar playing is left largely unadorned, save for Bryant's tasteful drumming and some antebellum ambiance seeping in at the edges. He keeps his drawling twang at a languid pace on closing cut "On the Day" (which first appeared in an abbreviated form on Theodore's final release, the Blood Signs EP). It's a somber and resigned rumination on a man's final day on Earth that bleeds into a screechy, industrial field recording; a shuffling off of this mortal coil, perhaps. But given the band's two-man aesthetic, Phantom Limb never rests on a set sound. "Short Hair" is a blast of fuzzy garage rock, and opening track "$100" kicks off in such a disorienting fashion that Misra Records saw fit to include the following disclaimer on its press release: "Their debut begins with a sludgy intro that is not entirely indicative of the band's sound. Give it until around 0:41." Think of that fuzz-bomb intro as a palette cleanser for a record and a band that can stand alone despite its provenance.