Music Reviews

Liars Liars

(Mute Records) Rating - 9/10

Liars have been engaged in a unique experiment in musical primitivism, attempting to represent our human-ness below the surface of appearance and civilization. I'm deliberately not using the trope "common humanity" because Liars are digging deeper, further back, to the time when the neo-cortex was new and we hadn't yet figured out how it worked. These concept albums were remarkably successful, artistically speaking, partly because they so artfully fused concept with execution. With this territory well mined the question loomed - how good would Liars be without a grand idea to unify their work? This new eponymous album is their answer.

Things are different right out of the gate. Whereas before the songs could linger, develop slowly, and exist solely for mood, now they must stand on their own. And so, with Plaster Casts of Everything and Houseclouds, we hear discernible riffs and melodies, as well as alternating sections, in the tradition of the pop song. The latter is a remarkably coherent and catchy song for this band as the third tune, Leather Prowler, quickly reminds us. Here are Liars in all their Jungian glory, hammering on what can't really be called drums, and wailing into the chasms of anxiety. So they may have given up the concept, but they haven't given up the concerns, or the approach.

As the album unfolds, we hear the same distrust of complexity that defined the band for fans, as well as the inexplicable sound that compels us to stare agape, as if at a traffic accident, beautiful and horrible in its overwhelming reality. A great example is the chanting that moves from tuneful to dissonant and back again at the end of Sailing to Byzantium. They cherish these dissonances by holding on to them longer than Mozart might have advised, which gives the music its fractured beauty. Another effective technique is the merging of the orderly with the distorted, as on Freak Out, which sounds almost like a hit by the Ronettes reverberating in the head of a schizophrenic; everything sounds just a little too loud and unclear, though there is a gem underneath.

And just when most albums are running out of steam, nine songs in, Liars throws a brilliant piece of stomp like Clear Island on us. I'll know the next time I'm at a truly "hip" party when the room is jumping up and down to this one. And even though we knew the band could write a pretty tune (see The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack), who would have thought they were capable of something as unsentimentally lyrical as Protection? Still, this is Liars and the beauty is in the juxtaposition of elements; the pretty melody sung by droning voices, or the layering of organ chords in bitonality (using two diatonic chords together to form a new, more dissonant chord - think of the section that sounds like "Jaws" from The Rite of Spring).

There's a reason I continue to champion this band over the myriad of other Independent Artistes that make the critics all gooey inside. Liars make challenging, intriguing music that works brilliantly within its own self-imposed limitations. They transport you to another place, if you are willing to go, and they constantly strive to go deep, usually succeeding. It's hard to say if this is a step forward, a retrenchment, or simply a holding pattern, and it hardly matters. Liars is yet another thrilling work from one of the few "rock" bands still striving to make art - with truth, beauty...all that shit.