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Album Of The Week

What We Do Now Will Forever Define Us: The Apple Drop By Liars
Will Salmon , August 5th, 2021 08:25

Liars turn twenty in grand style with perhaps the most welcoming – and most uncanny – record to date, finds Will Salmon

Photo: Clemens Habicht

Liars turn twenty this year with an album that, for the first time in the band’s long history, seems to look back as well as forward. 2017’s TFCF was a reboot of sorts. After years of working together as a duo, Aaron Hemphill departed the band to have a family and pursue his Nonpareils solo project, leaving Angus Andrew the sole remaining Liar. Andrew moved back to his native Australia and stitched that record together from musical parts recorded in LA. The result was thrillingly all over the place, a genre-fluid collage that seemed to map out his turbulent emotional state in the wake of his long-time collaborator's departure.

A rapid-fire followup, Titles With The Word Fountain emerged the next year, but sounded exactly like what it was: a loose gathering together of studio odds and sods (including an admittedly excellent Dolly Parton-quoting drone track) that was intriguing, but a little lacking in focus. The Apple Drop, by contrast, is by far the most approachable Liars record in years. While there's a lyrical focus on looking inward and notions of personal development, inspired in part by Andrew's recent exploration of microdosing psylocybin, it's less insular and abstract than the previous record.

No doubt at least some of that is down to Andrew embracing collaboration once more. PVT drummer Laurence Pike and multi-instrumentalist Cameron Deyell on joined Andrew in the studio, developing and expanding upon ideas before he finished them off on the computer. Even the lyrics are collaborative, with poet Mary Pearson Andrew (Angus’s partner) contributing to the songs.

The result is an album with stronger songs and an expansive cinematic grandeur to match its movie poster-like cover. The Apple Drop boasts a rich sonic palette that brings in string arrangements, embraces the guitar in a way this band hasn’t for more than a decade, and pushes Pike’s crisp, martial drumming to the front of the mix. It sounds absolutely massive.

The first half of the album has a striking consistency, with each song flowing neatly into the next, beginning, naturally enough, with ‘The Start’, an elegantly trippy scene-setter where Andrew looks back and takes stock of how far he’s come in life and art. On ‘Slow And Turn Inward’, Andrew’s protagonist embarks on a mysterious adventure (“At first light, we’ll go…”) against a bed of guitar and ominous background chants. The dense sonic layering here recalls the uneasy atmosphere of early Liars and indeed, the song has its origins in the sessions for 2004’s They Were Wong, So We Drowned.

‘Sekwar’ acts as a bridge between TFCF and The Apple Drop, its downbeat boom bap and off kilter synth recalling that record’s ‘Cred Woes’. More arresting, though, is Andrew’s semi-spoken vocal. His lyrics have always been a compelling mix of the poetically yearning, apocalyptically grim and the outright obtuse. Here he lays it out straight: “They told me I was a juiced up, worn out sad sack”. It’s a helluva opening line on a song that sounds righteously furious.

The album’s two other singles offer some of the band’s most straightforward and accessible music. 'Big Appetite’ answers the unexpected question: “What if Liars tried their hand at anthemic indie rock?” It opens with a grunge guitar riff before blossoming into an ear worm chorus, climaxing with a rousing string-led finale. And ‘From What The Never Was’ gives Andrew’s voice – always Liars’ most potent and malleable instrument – a full work out, moving from softly sung sweetness to eldritch shrieks.

If the second half of the record is less of a piece, then it feels like Andrew cutting loose and having fun revisiting different facets of the band’s sound from across the years. ‘Star Search’ acts as an unusual fulcrum for the record, it’s child-like piano quickly drowned out in a wailing cacophony of sound. The swaggering garage rock of ‘My Pulse to Ponder’ is a throwback to the violent derangement of 2010’s Sisterworld (“I found a blade and I sharpened it way close / It glistened in the moon when I cut your throat!”), reminding us that few bands do bloodcurdling menace like Liars. And ‘Leisure War’ is an odd little electronic piece that would have sat neatly on 2012’s fantastic WIXIW, though its main appeal is Pike’s superb drumming.

Best of all is ‘King Of The Crooks’, a swooningly lovely, Scott Walker-ish fantasy of self-acceptance. “Now that my hang-ups are gone / They’re finally out of the way / I can be guilty-free me”, sings Andrew against a backdrop of airy synth and gentle guitar. It’s a beautiful reminder of the vulnerability that lurks beneath the often sinister surface of his work.

Of course, demons are never fully exorcised and this mood of calm is rapidly dispelled. The album closes out with ‘Acid Crop’ (followed by the brief, doomy instrumental ‘New Planets New Undoings’). It’s a devastating finale, the quietly brooding guitar and drums slowly building to an explosive crescendo as Andrew declares “What we do now will forever define us”, before staggering off stage, wearily repeating, “I heard it all before”.

One of the many impressive things about The Apple Drop is that while it joins the dots between Liars past and present, it never feels like a straight-up retread of those early records. Instead, it suggests a fascinating future for Angus Andrew and a now presumably flexible line-up of co-conspirators. It’s a beautiful, weird, heartfelt and uncanny album – exactly like the nine records that preceded it and also entirely unlike them.