More than 10 years have passed since the perennially anomalous Liars released their 2001 debut, They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top. That title was a thinly veiled jab at the press who had lumped them into the emerging New York dance-punk scene of the time. Genre-leading bands like The Rapture would go on to sign major record deals and play with The Cure and The Sex Pistols. But Angus Andrew and Aaron Hemphill were not simply interested in perpetuating a sound they’d helped curate to sell records. Instead, they scrapped everything and went a completely different direction, releasing: They Were Wrong So We Drowned.
Recorded in a cabin in New Jersey with TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, the album teamed with off the wall sound experimentation. It featured everything from kitchen sinks to ambient space drones and terse drum buildups accented by radio frequencies. Now on their 6th full length, Liars continue to expand their sound palette and defy classification.
WIXIW (pronounced “wish you”) is a dark record that renounces any of the art-punk sensibilities still leftover on 2010’s Sisterworld. In a Rolling Stone interview Andrew admits the band’s reluctance to explore a sound lacking the usual screams and manic energy of their previous work. He and Hemphill again moved into a cabin for the writing process in a remote area of the Los Angeles Mountains. The isolation helped create a sound texture that blankets a sinister electronic underworld. WIXIW is ambiguous discharges of operatic synth, maracas and reverb-laden keyboard that would be just as appealing to a junkie as it would a yogi.
“The Exact Colour of Doubt” opens as a sort of transcendental fever dream. Tiny syncopated hand claps build the track’s momentum as Andrew sings “I’ll always be your friend/I’ll never let you down.” While clearly speaking to feelings of love and loss, his voice trails off into a murmur intended to empower the listener to draw their own interpretation. Liars never print their lyrics in any capacity and Andrew has said he finds it more interesting to hear what people think he’s singing rather than what he is actually saying. This kind of open source listening experience makes sense given that the album’s title is a palindrome.
WIXIW may be Liars’ least “punk” album to date but it is also their most danceable. “A Ring on Every Finger” thumps and broods along like a James Murphy track in his early DFA days. It should be clear, however, that Liars have not made a dance record. “III Valley Prodigies” samples sounds from a 4th of July parade as Andrew sings in a subdued Thom Yorke falsetto. The title track is a six-minute odyssey that has brief moments of videogame camp before breaking into moments of jarring beauty. “Flood to Flood” is an eerily danceable banger with a great little guitar riff, spaceship emergency alarms and more thumping bass with lyrics like “tie me up in a red ribbon/teach me how to be a person”. “Who is the Hunter” most prominently displays Andrew’s vocal talent and owes a bit to some of Aphex Twin’s compositions.
Liars may not please everyone with their latest effort, but it has never been their desire to appeal to the masses. WIXIW is an acquired taste like much of their music and benefits from repeated listens. It is just as much a record for contemplation as it is for destruction. Courtney Taylor-Taylor once said that Anton Newcombe was always three years ahead of everyone else, which spoke to why his reach wasn’t far beyond his own inner circle. The same can be said for Liars, who have been more open to new direction than any band in a long time.
Words: Brian Noonan