Liars into a vast and hostile heath. “This is what we all go through; we all have this sense of uncertainty and doubt that’s part of our process,” Angus Andrew says, talking both about the creation of his band’s new record and about human life, “but for us it’s important to go through that, so that you know you’re doing something that’s beyond your normal scope.” When the Liars frontman speaks about the relationship between the beginning and end of things, of venturing out and into the wilderness to be gashed and bruised, he speaks in earnest. Andrew is right, and if he’s right against all reasonable odds, it’s because he and his band are almost always right against all reasonable odds.
Over 10 years, Liars—Andrew, along with co-founder and co-songwriter Aaron Hemphill and percussionist Julian Gross—have strung together a series of records that don’t seem to belong in the same store, much less the same discography. A shuffle of the group’s catalogue is just as likely to draw the ur-dancepunk hit “Mr. Your On Fire Mr.” as it is the cobbled, pencil-scratched sound collage of “Read the Book That Wrote Itself.” For 2006’s Drum’s Not Dead, Andrew and Hemphill dragged tribally intense drumming to the front of the soundstage and reduced their guitars to fluttering in vain panic against the backdrop. Liars arrived 18 months later like nothing had ever happened, spraying furious guitar-buzz, and on 2010’s Sisterworld the group was as comfortable guruing back and forth like Nick Cave as they were scoring bassoons and woodwinds to the mouse-motor percussion of a camera’s zoom lens. Liars, it would seem, haven’t merely built their identity around a refusal to have a coherent identity; they’ve turned the juke into an aesthetic.
It’s inevitable, then, that the new WIXIW (pronounced “wish-you”) could only have come from Liars, if only because it sounds at first spin like nothing else Liars have ever done. Gone are Sisterworld’s howling fantods and Liars’ grated nerves. If the guitars of Drum’s Not Dead were reduced to worrisome bit parts, here they’re lucky to make the playbill. The record’s nearly all-digital landscape is loamy with the thump of padded drums, orbited by spectral washes of synth-string and scarred by rejiggered found-sound. “There’s this great period early on where it’s all about experimentation,” Andrew says of the album’s recording process. “You’re just developing and cataloging hundreds of interesting sounds that you’ve created. Let a razor loose on the floor—what’s that sound like?” They recorded rags dripping into a tin pan and mounted mics on the front end of a thick janitorial broom that swept the studio’s concrete floors, but the sounds themselves are smudged to the point of illegibility, buried beneath pitchshifting piles of distortion, reverb and delay, and finally subjected to some of the tightest, most controlled songwriting of the group’s career. While the first listen of every new Liars release can be disorienting for fans of prior records, the fact that Liars are able to turn in an album that somehow bears their sonic fingerprints without once turning to the punk blasts of their previous work is almost too dizzying to bear. The shift in sound is so stark that Hemphill calls WIXIW “the antithesis to what we did on Sisterworld.”
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