There’s no act out there quite like Liars — out there in the musical realm and in their dabbling with experimental rock. With each and every album, they manage to pull the rug from under our feet with drastic shifts in their sound that are not only startling, but also peculiar and strangely arousing. You almost have to approach each new album with a blank slate because expecting to hear the same thing you heard on their albums prior is just the wrong approach.
That isn’t to say newcomers should already be on the run to avoid the inevitable head-scratching trying to describe the band, or that you should be forced to accept their craftiness because their place in experimental rock gives them the freedom to do so. But this commitment to completely shifting in sound between albums bears the main attraction to Liars in the first place. “If we aren’t confusing people, it’s not us,” states vocalist Angus Andrew in the press release for the sixth studio album in their decade-long career — the cryptically titled WIXIW — and I totally buy the sentiment.
For the time being Liars is residing in an electronic territory, and they’ve emulsified their learned experimental compulsions to create eleven haunting and insidious tracks. Starting with the appropriately titled opener, “The Extra Colour of Doubt,” there’s a deceptively angelic quality to its slow burn, with the heartbeat bass drum keeping listeners in a state of heightened awareness and fully prepared for the rest of the album’s uncertainty. As if according to plan, the following track, “Octagon,” is unsuspecting, featuring layers of deep, dark synths and Andrews’ unsettling vocal delivery that compare to the experience watching the boat ride sequence in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
We don’t quite leave this stream of sonic agitation, but we are somewhat transported with Liars’ arguably most accessible and best track to date, “No. 1 Against The Rush.” The bass and steady drumbeat kick into this painterly, xylophonic riff reminiscent of Close Encounters… before exploring and expanding the atmosphere with harmonic, accordion-like synths that propel Andrews’ arresting vocals and take his bold songwriting into a brighter spotlight. Even with lyrics discussing downward spirals and lost aspirations, the track never skimps on building up dread through its organically beautiful pacing and electronic radiancy. It’s the one track that proves this sonic direction was a spectacular choice for Liars to move into.
“A Ring On Every Finger” and “Brats” remind us of the dance-punk vibe Liars was capable of pulling off on their first two studio efforts, but by now applying synths and additional effects to the mix, they bring us a sound closer to that of the house genre. These guys haven’t gone completely AWOL, though. The great thing is that — amongst tracks like the cacophonous but alluring title track, the aforementioned “No. 1 Against The Rush,” and the post-rock influenced “Who Is The Hunter” — these couple of tracks feel varied and more than welcome given their placement on the tracklist. As a matter of fact, Liars are so good at what they do here that it almost sounds as if they’d mastered the house genre in a different lifetime.
We’re also fed a couple of songs that reveal some inclusion of acoustic guitar, which are juxtaposed against the album’s electronic tendencies to provide nice variation. Interestingly though, the most acoustic track, “Annual Moon Words,” appears as the last track on the album, which, after all is said and done, doesn’t make much sense and makes the most sense at the same time. Having started the album not knowing what to expect, Liars end the album with the same sense of acute awareness and unknowingness that the opening offered.
Having listened to the album nineteen or twenty times from beginning to end and letting it gestate in my mind, I’m stuck on what Mr. Andrews said in his statement from the first paragraph of this review, but there really is no fooling. Switching this time from the more instrumentally dissonant and sparse direction of their previous album, Sisterworld, (which was, in turn, a switch from the acute and brash atmospherics that their self-titled album displayed just before it, and so on) to this completely electronic landscape, my conclusion is that WIXIW works exactly like its palindromic title implies: this is a record with which you feel the same way after listening as you did when you started it.
That is by no means a underlying disappointment. Radiohead threw us a curve ball when Kid A was initially released, and now it is one of the most revered albums of the 2000s. I think WIXIW is within the same vein. The mysterious concepts and unrelenting textures with Liars shroud us on these eleven tracks — as different as they may sound from those on Liars’ previous albums and as feverishly varied as this album may be — are compelling and complex enough to have that potential staying power. WIXIW doesn’t want you to stick with it — it needs you to stick with it.
You can catch Liars on tour this summer across Europe and the US, with tour dates listed down below. Otherwise, take a good sit and listen to WIXIW, out on Tuesday, June 5th, on Mute Records.
Liars Tour Dates:
6/04 – Forbidden Fruit, Dublin
6/07 – Nouveau Casino, Paris
6/08 – Tivoli De Helling, Utrecht
6/09 – AB Club, Brussels
6/10 – Roter Salon, Berlin
6/12 – XOYO, London
6/15 – Ruby Lounge, Manchester
6/20 – Webster Hall, New York
6/22 – The Fonda Theater, Music Box, Los Angeles, CA
7/05 – The Fillmore Theater, San Francisco, CA
7/07 – Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR
7/08 – Neumos, Seattle, WA
7/09 – Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver
7/11 – Urban Lounge, Salt Lake City, UT
7/13 – Bluebird Theater, Denver, CO
7/14 – The Granada, Lawrence, KS
7/15 – The Waiting Room, Omaha, NE
7/17 – Minneapolis, First Avenue, MN
7/18 – Mad Planet, Milwaukee, WS
7/20 – Metro, Chicago, IL
7/21 – Lee’s Palace, Toronto
7/23 – La Sala Rossa, Montreal
7/24 – Paradise Rock Club, Boston, MA
7/25 – U Street Music Hall, Washington, DC
7/26 – Union Transfer, Philadelphia, PA
7/27 – Grog Shop, Cleveland Heights, OH
7/28 – A&R Music Bar, Columbus, OH
For more info: Liars Official Website