Liars – WIXIWPosted by Tarin Fasano
Liars have come a long way. Back in the early 2000s they were making garage viciously spiked with punk. Things got weirder and assigning a genre got harder. Grasping at straws, reviewers prefaced generic genres with “art”. (Mute is legitimately an independent record label, but “indie-rock” is a shameful reduction of whatever it is Liars create.) Nearly a dozen years after They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, the Brooklyn four-piece has mellowed out a bit with their newest LP, the subtle WIXIW (pronounced “wish you”).
Liars do what many rock bands have not: venture into the no-man’s-land that lies between rock and electronica. The seething anger in lead singer Angus Andrew’s voice is obscured by droning and distortion. Songs like “A Ring On Every Finger,” “Flood to Flood” and “Brats” lay down thick, banging bass. Liars record wet rags dripping on metal pots and the whine of deflating balloons to play with sound collage. A Krautrock groove threads the album together, a stylish and innovative bridge between the diverse components.
The “art” preface makes sense given Liars’ aesthetic use of textures and visually evocative noises. “Octagon” has a clever, idiosyncratic drum-line, smudges of drone and climaxing hi-hats. The bass sounds like its coming from the apartment downstairs. And it might actually be a chainsaw. Somehow, Liars evoke riding a sinister merry-go-round on a humid night. “Ill Valley Prodigies” uses organic sounds – clipping and clopping, chirping and meowing, bubbling rivers and vague yells – to sculpt out a hazy sylvan afternoon. Urgent, quivering synth rings and rings like a cell phone under water in “His and Mine Sensations.” A collection of beeps, pins and needles pepper a mid-range drone like a million tiny anxieties prickling in a subconscious. A couple songs, namely “WIXIW” and “A Ring on Every Finger” are like being dropped into a bustling crowd. Too claustrophobic.
Liars repeatedly betray listeners. “No. 1 Against The Rush” feels like formulaic pop-rock for a moment, but watery blips of piano offer a cool oasis from WIXIW’s intensity. Washes of color replace the crowded textures, and a strikingly unprocessed voice invites the listener to “Spiral down… come back…” Utilitarian synth licks march in and so many colors are layered on that it gets muddy. Suddenly the track is stripped down, and a broken bass line shivers and echoes out of the corner. The repeated subversion of expectations inspires uncertainty. Even the infallibility of machines is questioned.
The post-internet non-language name WIXIW highlights the juxtaposition of machinery and humanity. “Flood to Flood” is at first wholly human, rippling with Eastern scales and hypnotic vocal rounds. “Teach me how to be a person” a calcifying human voice implores. Slapping on more rhythms, more textures, Liars eventually bury the song and clobber the listener over the head. “Brats” has a grimy, infectious beat. It’s metallic and visceral, very dance-able. But the vocals are so fried they crack, and spirals of tortured synth suggest the dancing is at gunpoint. “Who Is The Hunter” is bare and deliberate, both the most beautiful song and the most human. Andrew’s lyrics are wounded but he isn’t pissed off or wallowing in self-pity.
Though WIXIW is a fine collection it might be too chewy for mainstream success. It’s a little off-center, but Liars don’t tend to speak plainly. Doesn’t mean they aren’t eloquent.