, May 30th, 2012 10:07
Of all the artists navigating the potentials of the great fracture that has occurred in musical culture over the past decade, it's arguably Liars who have been the most bold, uncompromising and forthright. Not for them the self-consciously showy threading together of disparate musical forms into a gaudy necklace that snaps and scatters into nothing at more thorough inspection. Neither have they bothered themselves overly with worrying about what their contemporaries are up to: They Threw Us In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top was a bitingly sarcastic rebuttal to the New York music scene they were initially lumped into, as was the volte-face to write a violently uncommercial concept album about witches (They Were Wrong, So We Drowned).
Most of the American indie rock fraternity is smugly and coyly self-aware of the postmodern context in which they operate. With an 'um, like, whatever' shrug, Liars' contemporaries over the past decade have indulged in knowing ironic posturing, retromanic whimsy and sense of 'good taste' as appointed by blog culture. In marked contrast, every Liars album has seen the trio of Angus Andrew, Aaron Hemphill and Julian Gross swivel violently on its own axis. Their ever-present fulcrum is a fascination with rhythm and sonic texture, but around that each album whirls as a fantastic, colourful blur, whether the percussive, character-driven intensity of Drum's Not Dead, the pugnacious rock of Liars, or the arid violence of Sisterworld.
But it's perhaps on WIXIW that Liars have surprised us, and themselves, the most. The sound sketches on their Amateur Gore Tumblr, which presaged the release of any music from their sixth album, initially suggested that after the guitar psychopathy might come an ambient balm of relief. This both is and isn't the case. Although first track to be released, 'Number One Against The Rush', has a lightness that steals the gadabout melody from The Cure's 'A Forest', WIXIW is an album that, in the ponderous deep rhythms and hidden vocals of 'Octagon' and 'Flood To Flood', features many Liars tropes of yore, but refashions them for a more electronic delivery. As such, these deep layers ensure that Liars' most accessible album to date is, perversely, one that might take a while to click if you're a long-term fan. Andrew's maniacal screams for "Blood! Blood!" and shooting tramps with guns, Hemphill's controlled aggression and Gross' knack for elegant rhythmic brutalism were a treat for all of us who appreciate our music when it comes as a kick to the solar plexus and the mind.
Liars themselves seem accepting of the gamble they've taken. The album's themes of doubt were neatly, and uncomfortably, reflected by their tough taskmaster - producer and Mute boss Daniel Miller, whose expertise in electronic music was, Andrew told the Quietus, rather daunting.
This leap of faith and new range of instrumentation and writing techniques has created an album where vocal washes sit on top of skittish electronic beats, such as on opening track 'The Exact Colour Of Doubt'. The resulting sound invites comparisons with Radiohead, with whom the band toured and who similarly attempt to constantly push themselves forward. Yet for whatever reason Radiohead have become so insufferably dour and pompous that, aside from the increasingly anaemic wheedle of Thom Yorke's vocal, they sound joylessly inhuman. Liars, however, can never help but allow that rambunctious humanity shine through. You can hear that in the way that 'Number One Against The Rush' ends by seeming to trip over itself in a hurry to announce the jolly, Beck-ish clatter of 'A Ring On Every Finger', which in turn gives way to 'Ill Valley Prodigies'' eerie field recordings of cawing carrion birds, the Brocken Witches of They Were Wrong.... reimagined as LA valley girls. 'Brats', meanwhile, is a juddering drunk punk masterpiece.
Liars - WIXIW by Mute UK
This odd personality is what gifts Liars the ability to actually cut through to the nitty-gritty which, after Sisterworld's exploration of places of escape, is here concerned with the doubt and duality of human relationships. As they say on the My Bloody Valentine-as-synth-bee-swarm title track: "now I say it's not enough / I wish you were here with me / I can no longer take it all / wish that you would not come back me". Perhaps this is inspired by their relationship with Miller, perhaps by inter-band or personal relationships, perhaps a furthering of Sisterworld's pitting of the self against a hostile world. But it's interesting to note that Liars have been here before, with the two characters that made up Drum's Not Dead, or the pagan/fear/human conflict of They Were Wrong, So We Drowned. A lyrical throwback: "I refuse to be a person", on the jerky 'Flood To Flood' reflects "I no longer want to be a man / I want to be a horse" in They Were Wrong...'s 'Broken Witch'. Liars songs that carry the heaviest doubt are always those that rock the hardest.
Oddly enough, they're not necessarily a group you'd have gone to for an exploration of the personal, despite the fact that every album seems to end with a tender love song – see Drum's Not Dead's lullaby closer 'The Other Side Of Mount Heart Attack' and its "I won't run far / If you need me / I can always be found / I will stay by your side". Something curious about Liars' albums is how each seems to unlock different aspects of their past. Aptly enough, given its title, WIXIW for me opens up this tenderness that I'd perhaps not sufficiently noticed before. Thanks to their new found lightness, taking the foot off the Butthole Surfers-inspired lunacy pedal and allowing in these new electronic voices, alongside their most personal lyrics to date, their entire body of work acquires new shades and hues, heart and soul.
Once you allow it to sink in, WIXIW becomes a hushed collection of voices... wish you dare... wish you could love... wish you join us... wish that finally this band of three men with lunatic hair finally get the recognition they deserve, as one of the greatest avant-pop groups of our age.