Liars – Liars

July 11, 2007

Liars - LiarsLiars are one of the best rock bands producing music today for one simple reason: They are not bound by anyone’s expectations, any particular style, or any one attitude, modus operandi, set of influences, etc. They create a concept for a sound, flesh it out, come up with ideas that that sound is good for expressing, and make an album. Afterwards, they wipe the slate clean and start from scratch again. Name another band that does that and get a gold star. And please tell me who they are so I can listen to them, as no one is that original. Seriously.

But Liars are that original. Their first album (They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top) was famous for its fuck-you attitude: Dance-y Gang of Four-influenced punk rock that was purposely dissonant and harsh. Yet behind the nasty sounds was something accessible and funky. The album is a lot of fun. Their second album (They Were Wrong, So We Drowned) is made up of atonal noise arranged with little care for logic or accessibility. It was music that lived for one purpose: To make you hate it (Yeah, it’s their weakest album by far. But yeah, it’s still highly interesting if you can handle it). Their third album (Drum’s Not Dead) was all about Krautrock-style rhythm and propulsion, focusing on tribal drumming and an artsy vocal/story concept: A high voice representing doubt (Mt. Heart Attack), and a bass voice representing confidence (Drum) clashing and conversing. Don’t laugh, it totally works, and doesn’t even come off as all that pretentious.

So: dissonant dance-punk, atonal noise, tribal Krautrock opera, and here comes album 4, a self-titled album (a declaration that this is the real sound of the band, rather than an artistic project with a specific purpose? Maybe we’ll find out if album 5 is similar… but I doubt it), and the question is, what kind of record is it? Well, the record uses sounds and techniques that the band has gained familiarity with on each of its three records, but the main thing that sets it apart is its variety: This is the first Liars record that is not one concept, but many songs with many different sounds. There’s plenty of noise and dissonance to go around, but it also sounds like a fucking rock record. And the fun, so long absent, is back. It sounds like Liars trying to make an early Sonic Youth record but discovering that they’re too schizophrenic: both too mean and too chill. It’s like they’re on a pendulum swinging from Big Black through Sonic Youth to the Jesus and Mary Chain and back.

The first track is incredible: “Plaster Casts of Everything” retains the propulsive beat and repetition of Drum’s Not Dead but transports it away from psychological drama and the avant-garde and returns it to music that sounds more human. It’s fucking exciting and loud and cool, and that’s before the breakdown three minutes in, after which, holy shit.

“Houseclouds” is the biggest shift for Liars: It’s chilled-out! Who knew that Liars could pull that one off? “I won’t be gone” and “We’ve just begun”, they sing over a funky beat and wandering bass, as the song’s use of instrumentation and voices shifts from bare to filled-out and back. While “Leather Prowler” is a more typical (although excellent) banging noise-drama, “Sailing to Byzantium” returns to a laid-back sound, and is a fantastic track. I really have to compliment the sequencing of the album: Where Liars’ use of noise used to be overwhelming, it’s now more evenly spaced out between numbers that don’t try to bash the listeners’ brains out. And the more relaxed sound is a huge success, spawning some of the best tracks on the album.

The next tracks are the confluence of the two sounds: “What Would They Know” alternates a happier atmosphere with shrieking dissonance, while “Cycle Time” breaks into a great pop hook half-way through, although it’s obscured by feedback. “Freak Out” and “Pure Unevil” sound like a near-direct lift from the Jesus and Mary Chain: Happy pop, guitar noise, and all that. That’s not a bad thing really, and there is one major twist: If the Jesus and Mary Chain sounded like they were too cool to really try to make music, the taut Liars rhythm section leaves no doubt that want their music to affect you.

But the next track is the highlight of the album. “Clear Island” is so non-derivative that it’s hard to describe. Chanting vocals set atop guitars that remind me of nothing so much as the earth shifting and rotating beneath the foundations of the piece. The tension is incredible: Despite multiple breakdowns, it never feels like the piece gives you a chance to take a breath. And there’s this rising guitar line about 1:15 in which just kills, leading into the frantic chorus: “Come save me!/ Come save me!/ Come save me!/ My heart.”

“The Dumb in the Rain” is a typical atmospheric piece of noise, but “Protection” returns to the “Sailing to Byzantium” sound (although it’s less about a cool vibe and more about strangled beauty), ending the album majestically. The verdict: It’s perhaps the easiest Liars record to listen to, but is still hugely demanding, and requires that you can really like dissonance and see beauty in ugliness. But if you have the necessary mental and physical stamina, it’s a rare record that manages to be both exciting and propulsive, and affecting and deep. A powerful meeting of everything that makes Liars great.


MP3: Liars – Houseclouds
MP3: Liars – Clear Island

posted by nerdbound


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