Something tells me that Liars have been building up to the release of an album like Mess for the entire lifetime of the band. Each album they’ve released has sounded different from the one before it while still remaining true to the band’s established style. They took a full swing at electronic instrumentation with their sixth LP, 2012’s WIXIW, and while it’s in line with Liars’ penchant for reinvention, that effort seemed to be the album to deepen Liars’ universe with daunting experimentation, cavernous environments, and startling immediacy.
With Mess, however, Liars has managed to up their game by bringing the chilly territory established on WIXIW back into the realm of dance-punk, blending the two styles together and giving the band the ability to get frisky in stunning fashion, and despite what the title tells you, it’s not a messy combo. In fact, the only thing messy about the album is its cover, which features appropriately strewn, garishly colored yarn on top of a spinning fan, a signifier that the Los Angeles three-piece is ready to blow you away with their brooding textures and maddening sonic constructions.
The first half of Mess is reason enough to get on over to your local record store or digital music service to purchase this record immediately. From Angus Andrew’s disturbing vocals and the pulsating synths that open “Mask Maker” and drive “Vox Tuned D.E.D.” to the brilliant, kinky sci-fi terror of “Pro Anti Anti” to the 8-bit keyboard that fades out of the charismatic and blippy “Mess On A Mission,” the album naturally progresses through the labyrinthine atmospherics and bloody-dark electronics that were newly established in WIXIW; however, on Mess those somewhat familiar elements are given an injection of adrenaline to produce the grimiest of rave jams and easily Liars’ most accessible material in some time.
You might assume that the barrage of relentless, twisted energy here would tumble underneath the many tinkering layers that the members of Liars try to stuff into each track, giving more meaning to the album’s name, except that, on the contrary, the band allows the madness ample space and pushes their lyrical content to the front, resulting in a feeling that the band is finally comfortable in the playground they’ve constructed for themselves. Even the droney slow-burner “Can’t Hear Well” fits seamlessly into the upbeat mix.
The entire A-side of Mess easily burns through 25 minutes without breaking a sweat, even if listeners do. I’m being polite when I say it’s practically flawless.
The instrumental “Darkslide” gives Mess a break and slows down the energy quite tremendously, setting a post-apocalyptic mood for the second half of the record. Buzzy hums and muted textures permeate each track with a sense of anxiety and yearning — a sentimental staple of Liars’ discography — which is most certainly welcome and always invigorating even if the songs don’t entirely embody the same lively palette as those on the first half of the album.
The ambitiously long “Perpetual Village” lives up to its name by delivering a haunted soundscape whose course of action doesn’t particularly change throughout its nine minutes. It’s a fine production to get lost in, but it’s a step back from the more progressive tracks that helped the album gain its momentum. It takes the equally haunting, lingering, and better closing track “Left Speaker Blown” to pick up from the drag. You can get just as lost in the second half of Mess as you can its ravey first half; it’s just a different kind of “lost,” and the album is partially out of sorts for that reason.
It may not embody the fascinating moods, emotional spirals, and deliberate conceptualism of WIXIW, but Mess is as equally impressive as that prior album for being confident, thrilling, and fun on its own terms. Liars appear to be at their most comfortable in years, and their unique combination of lively dance-punk and sinister, brooding sounds is a winning formula that I hope carries on into future creations. The first half of the album is reason enough to seek this effort out, and no fan of Liars should even consider questioning its integrity.
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