, March 21st, 2014 09:14
"Thou shalt choose the hard road with an equal mix of hubris and regret," reads the third commandment on Angus Andrew's list of Liars' most consecrated creative ideologies, as dictated to The Stool Pigeon in 2012. Admittedly there is little regrettable about the discography Andrew, Aaron Hemphill and Julian Gross have left behind them, but the statement does seem to somewhat encapsulate the group's fearless approach to trying on different musical skins for size, wearing them in, taking a nonchalant stroll down the aforementioned hard road, before tearing them off with the ferocity of a school of piranhas. With Mess, their seventh album since their conception some fourteen years ago, Liars have come to consume the trajectory they've traced over the years - over continents, over genres, over anything that stands in their way; hubris, regret and all.
As much as Mess is a drive further across electronic borders Liars explored in 2012 with WIXIW, it is simultaneously a consolidation of all that has come before. Many have been quick to point out WIXIW's 'Brats' as a lead in point to the chapter that follows here, but it perhaps equally pertinent to suggest there is a thread that leads much deeper into Liars' history: the guttural aggression that lined They Threw Us In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top, or the rhythmic intensity of Drum's Not Dead.
While it was easy to look at the skeleton of WIXIW and forecast another more reflective electronic successor, what instead rises from the ashes is a somewhat mischievous affair that's loaded with tongue-in-cheek deviance. This even extends to a string of photos that graced the group's Tumblr page in the run up to release which saw the tangle of coloured fibres situated on the album's cover sitting innocuously within in various everyday situations: between two slices of bread; slung over the face of a Calvin Klein model on an LA billboard; dribbling out of a subway ticket machine. If WIXIW was Liars opening themselves up to a certain degree of vulnerability, Mess is them embracing this nakedness: as they bounce from the walls, maniacal grins plastered across their faces.
Liars have frequently said that they found working more exclusively with electronics rather difficult, something that shaped WIXIW's themes of doubt and insecurity. There's no such worry here. Take opener 'Mask Maker' for example, with its pitched down vocal that pummels you in the face before the track has barely begun: "Take my pants off / Use my socks / Smell my socks / Eat my face off / Eat my face off / Take my face / Give me your face." It's incredibly brazen, and yet gives way to a juddering synth line that swallows it whole. Ferocious percussive brutality administers a great big kick to the gut, and you're instantly faced with something monstrous but also somewhat sexy. Suddenly "give me your face" isn't a terrifying threat of flaying, but a burning plea of desire. Give me your face so I can put it somewhere else. Everything that follows seems to occupy this thought, the stuttered 'ahaah ahaah ahaah' groans from Andrew, the interlude of what sounds like an over-exaggerated Foley clip of someone trying to recreate the excited squeak of bed springs, before the whole thing mutates and slips seamlessly into 'Vox Tuned D.E.D.' with its slinky rhythm that swells and contracts.
It's not all so blindingly obvious though. Take away the vocal effects and synthetic interruptions, and the latter half of the album essentially becomes a selection of morbid and muffled love songs. The blatant vividness of previous tracks, such as 'Pro Anti Anti', one of the most pugilistic bangers Liars have every written, appears to lull. 'Darkslide''s slurpy, whirring textures claw away at your consciousness like the sudden longing for bed at an arduous social gathering; 'Dress Walker' has a drawn out bassline and stuttered modulations that tingle and itch.
There are still glimmers of wry deviance, though. Dark creaks of electronics snigger across 'Boyzone' mimicking Andrew's own monotonous moaning, while on 'Perpetual Village' he drawls lines like: "I'm aware / Of your appeal / And I'm burning up" alongside "I eat what I kill, waste not" without a change of intonation. On record the sentiments are barely audible, adrift between the atmospheric noises layered heavily over the top. They become a part of the process, a touch of humanity lost amongst the machines.
For humanity is what Liars thrive on. They have an uncanny ability to switch from bizarre to beautiful, from unhinged chanting to moments of lustiness to a moment of vulnerability without ever having to think about it too much, and always with a smirk of brilliance. Mess simultaneously looks back and forwards; it is never one certain thing at any given moment. It never has to be, for Liars are no longer choosing a hard road - instead, they have dug it up and rebuilt their very own.