Over a decade has passed since the release of Liars first album, a period which has seen the band traverse almost as much distance geographically as they have creatively. Their formative years were spent in the fertile, early 2000’s Brooklyn scene where they were casually lumped together with contemporaries like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, !!!, and The Strokes. Their formidable creative ambition sat ill at ease with these acts. Where they were content to sharpen and hone their established sonic palette, Liars have been engaged in a constant process of musical reinvention. These creative shifts have been informed, in part by physical relocation, the band currently operating out of Los Angeles after a stint in Berlin.
Excerpts from their more recent releases provide ample proof of this artistic restlessness. 2006’s Drums Not Dead was an experimental complexity, wrapped in the conceptual artifice of two conflicting anthropomorphic characters – Drum and Mt Heart Attack whilst, their self-titled 2007 follow-up was a grinding, noise-punk blast, shorn of any overarching narrative. With their latest album, WIXIW (standing for ‘Wish You’), they’ve again staked their claim on new territory, embracing the synthetic abstraction of electronic music.
Opening with digitized swells of sounds, Angus Andrew begins to tentatively croon, joined shortly after by a temperate rhythmic component that completes a pretty first track. It’s a clear herald of departure from the often-atonal noise of previous efforts. A Trentemoeller-esque beat underpins its follow-up, “Octagon” before transitioning into the sublime “No. 1 Against the Rush”. Their first single, this track reflects the group’s innate sensibility for the canorous – a talent that has received infrequent expression. Andrew’s plaintive expression of an elemental desire – “I want you, I need you…” – is in itself a revelation, revealing a willingness to depart from the reflexively abstract.
This is articulated throughout the album, with “Brats” and “His and Mine Sensations” in particular, taking their cues from the dancier elements of outré electronica, the former most resembling Vitalic’s hard-driving electro and the latter, moments on Thom Yorke’s Eraser. These tracks are nicely balanced by the acoustically inclined “Ill Valley Prodigies” and “Annual Moon Words”, which ensure a diversity of musical elements. It’s their first album in a while to derive much of its beauty from base tunefulness rather than the listener’s detached appreciation of originality and is all the more rewarding as a result.
Liars still find occasion to challenge the listener here and it would almost be a betrayal of their commitment to pushing boundaries not to do so. Their use of unconventional instrumentality remains intact, fleshing out sonic ideas in a satisfyingly complex fashion. Whether intentionally or not, the cumulative result is a Liars album that borders on accessibility and is all the stronger for it.
MP3 Stream: “No. 1 Against the Rush“