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Liars
Sisterworld Charles Ubaghs , March 9th, 2010 07:32

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Liars are a band defined by the bubbles they've inhabited over the years. Trapped in the Brooklyn post-punk bubble for their appropriately named 2002 debut, They Threw Us All In A Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, the band escaped of the dance-punk tag by retreating to an isolated house in New Jersey. Free of Williamsburg's hipsters, the band turned inwards, sinking into their own personal bubble and producing the phenomenal, though initially poorly received, They Were Wrong So We Drowned. Relocating to Berlin, Drums Not Dead and Liars benefited from the disassociation that comes with the expatriate lifestyle. Unable to speak the language, which effectively cut them off from large chunks of the surrounding culture, the band were once again free to focus on making what they wanted within a space influenced by little more than their own creative urges.

Have spent so long now living in these private worlds, it's ironic to find that it took a move to Los Angeles, a city where bubble-living isn't just a choice, it's a matter of life or death, for the men of Liars to finally break out of their self-imposed creative isolation and engage with their surroundings, allowing them to influence and play a defining role on Sisterworld.

Liar's fifth album is, in part, the band's take on L.A. This being Liars, though, it's a far cry from the (Faustian) allure of the Hollywood celebrity dream or the good vibrations of the city's sun-kissed clichés. Instead, it's a record informed by the city's sprawling expanse. A decentralised metropolis filled with pockets of affluence, the poorer districts filling up the spaces between. Areas populated by those for whom the social promise of two cars, kids and a nice house of their own hasn't materialised, the prema-grin optimism paraded around in the mainstream media bearing little resemblance to their day to day lives. There's the man Angus Andrew witnessed dying of a gunshot wound outside of his apartment, located above a medical marijuana dispensary in one of the city's rougher corners, and the crowd who gathered to watch. They're the fetish seekers who attended the club next door in search of extreme release from the frustrations of a marginalised existence. And they're the men who mistook Andrew's flat for the dispensary and attempted to break in by smashing through his wall with a sledgehammer, only to find a terrified Australian in his boxer shorts instead of the pungent green gold they were searching for.

The L.A. of Sisterworld, then, is a place of nervous tension whose lulling desolation is embodied by the sombre, nerve-fraying lullabies ('No Barrier Fun') and doom-tinged mantras ('Proud Evolution') that make up the bulk of the record. As Liars albums go, it's the band at their most melodic. Yet its twisted melodies are constantly shadowed by the paranoia-laced threat of possible violence; a violence that periodically comes crashing through the album's warped orchestration with the chaotic blasts of ear-splintering aggression heard on highlight 'Scarecrows on a Killer Slant' The song's jagged guitar attack and industrial drums are answered by Andrew's screams of 'Stand them on the street with the gun AND THEN KILL THEM ALL,' his throat-shredding wailing racking up the tension, bathing the subdued opening bars of follower 'I Still Can See An Outside World' in a harsh, post-traumatic light. It's an ebb and flow that repeats itself in a myriad of ways across Sisterworld, from the soft strings and jarring noise of opener 'Scissor' and ending with the unearthly coda of 'Too Much Too Much'.

But while it's safe to say that Sisterworld is in part a record about L.A., it's wrong to label it Liars' L.A. record. The city of angels is the backdrop but the album's haunting sense of alienation, frustration and aggression is the main story. And that's a tale that reaches far past the Los Angeles county line because Sisterworld is the band's American record. It's the dark truth that the American dream rests on. It's the mania found in the race for individual gain and the emotional and psychological fallout left in its wake. It's the mountain of conflicting emotions that come when cracks begin to show in the mighty dream, when you start to wonder if you'll ever quite measure up, when no matter how hard you work, your birthright of cars, kids, house and land may never be within reach. It's the America where men fly planes into I.R.S. offices because they refuse to pay their taxes and it's the America where parents make the world believe for a split second that their son is trapped on a high-flying weather balloon, all for the chance of once again appearing on television. The place where real people are suppose to live.

And for the men of Liars, Sisterworld is also a means of escape from it all. Some may wonder why more American bands don't sound like they could create, or sound like, a Sisterworld. The better question to ask is how those bands can dare to sound like anything else.

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Chris M
Mar 9, 2010 1:58pm

"Unable to speak the language, which effectively cut them off from large chunks of the surrounding culture, the band were once again free to focus on making what they wanted within a space influenced by little more than their own creative urges."

Having spent much time in Berlin myself, I can say that this sounds surprising to me. Most under the age of, say, 35 speak English very well, and have few qualms about doing so if you approach them. If the band were, as you claim, cut off, it must have largely been by their own choosing. Or, they only hung around the elder inhabitants of the city.

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J.
Mar 9, 2010 2:18pm

In reply to Chris M:

Don't be so pedantic. Obviously living in a foreign culture is disassociating, wether you speak the same language or not.

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Cam
Mar 9, 2010 6:39pm

I'm dying to know exactly where in town Angus A. was living when he was so rudely awakened by those hop-heads lookin' to score some Acapulco Gold for their "jazz" cigarettes. Anyone have a clue?

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Rick Brands
Mar 16, 2010 11:10am

In reply to Chris M:

I've been to Berlin a couple of times, too, and you're absolutely right: the only one who didn't want to speak English was an elederly cop I asked for directions, so no surprise there.

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