Music Reviews

Liars Mess

(Mute) Rating - 9/10

Tangled wads of multi-colored thickly gauged yarn have been strewn across every promotional opportunity enjoyed by Liars’ latest album, Mess, a vibrant medium that’s worked in tandem with the album’s electro-pop’d propulsions.  Since moving to Los Angeles the NYC art punk mutations Liars had cultivated have been largely abandoned, surrealist West Coast glam’d synthetics inspiring new means of re-fracturing their already abstract outlook.  If 2012’s WIXIW documented a relatively familiar, albeit shaky, transition into electronic music from the guitar-riddled fringe, a tradition exercised by more than a couple punk-to-new wave acts in the past, Mess confirms that the band is finally comfortable, faraway from the deranged fantasies Los Angeles had inspired for 2010’s Sisterworld

Diverting from the synth pop model established by the likes of The Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode, Liars (members Angus Andrew, Julian Gross and Aaron Hemphill) elect to create something more akin to Aphex Twin, The Orb and Massive Attack, trippy and rhythmic punk-infused club fodder that revels in a sleek sophistication at its surface, but reveals a level of boho anti-gloss in its composition.  Andrew, his voice robotically guttural, demands, “Take my pants off/Use my socks/Smell my socks/Eat my face off/Eat my face off/Take my face/Give me your face.”  As if falling from the mouth of Magic Mike’s interpretation of Ed Gein, the words introduce Mask Maker, which sets an adrenalized precedent that doesn’t really let up.  A static swing cuts through Vox Tuned D.E.D., Andrew employing a gothic croon that’s as much Nick Cave as it is Peter Murphy, simulated symphonic tones emerging as hook grease.  For I’m No Gold, its playful array of bleeps noodling beneath heavy undulating chords, the presence of a televangelist-tinged organ both enhances and confuses its otherwise programmed stability.

While the album’s first three offerings might closely relate to the genre-specifics of EDM, Pro Anti Anti carries a more industrial charge.  Clacking rackets punch with a piston’s drive as Andrew delivers a vocal almost as cold as the systems behind him (“They built advanced machines/I’m short a foot or two from proud”).  Ambient transmissions commence as the factory is relieved for a moment, a couple seconds of beautifying sounds allowed clarity before fading again beneath the running machinery. 

The squeezebox melancholy of Can’t Hear Well interrupts the otherwise immediate first chunk of Mess, its single Mess on a Mission being the last rush before a noticeable period of comedown.  The cycling textures building up the agitated Darkslide, probably the closest Liars come to indulging in some of the experimentation that comprised the bulk of WIXIW, lead into more ominous keyboard loops of Boyzone, the album’s initial charge giving way to a slower, more ponderous and immersive treatment.

It might seem like the latter half of Mess detaches from the energy that built it up, but it’s through this half that the album becomes more than the reinterpretation of a style.  Liars commit themselves fully to the medium, stretching themselves as colorfully as the album’s visual component illustrates with a sure handedness that didn’t quite materialize with WIXIW.  Even the Richard D. James embellishments that inform Dress Walker, not to mention the Mezzanine-styled Massive Attack outro of Perpetual Village, work within the frame of Mess, tension-filled arrangements as flashy as they are peculiar.  While Liars have authored this stylistic genesis, though, they’ve been remarkably consistent in maintaining an understanding of how to compliment discomfort and strain with vigorous invention. 

With Left Speaker Blown, gentle cascading notes dressing up triplicate bass tones and a serrated streak of descending fuzz, the album’s allowed its one real moment of tranquility, reduced as Andrew delivers the line, “We’re good with time, not with friends/I hope you’ll never learn to play music.”  Now seven albums deep into their career, Liars remain a lasting and distinguished presence, one that continues to question the confinement of genre and fashions their identity around a refusal to do so.