Liars are an eternally restless band. Gaining popularity in the New York art punk explosion of the early noughties that saw contemporaries The Rapture and Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs mining the spindly jagged heritage left by their early 80s new wave predecessors, Liars at first seemed like more of the same- angular guitars, shouty vocals and sharp corners. Since then they’ve confounded all expectations, delivering a fractured, raging and experimental concept album themed around witchcraft; a thundering, percussive heavy concept album themed around drums; and a couple of records worth of gruff voiced hard rock. The band have managed the tricky feat of constantly striving for the new whilst keeping their fans onside- there’s a palpable desire amongst the Liars fanbase to see just what the band will do next. And now on WIXIW (apparently pronounced Wish You) they’re pushing their sound once more into the dark, lost spaces of the psyche.
The story is, WIXIW is Liars ‘electronic’ album. And, to a certain degree that’s true— guitars are almost completely absent, replaced with the nostalgic fuzz of retro synths, rogue mutating samples, clicks, whirrs, and shimmering waves of tone. But this isn’t an ‘electro’ record—the album has more in common with the motorik Krautrock cycles of Can and the bone machine percussion of Tom Waits than any club music of the last two decades. Whereas before singer Angus Andrew screamed and hollered, he spends WIXIW really singing, his detached, pagan folk vocals adding to the peculiar sense of inertia that creeps through the album. From flotation tank opener The Exact Colour of Doubt, WIXIW is the sound of a band conveying a modern numbness, with vocals mumbled and submerged, drum patterns half finished or working away at the edges of melody, insectile worries at the back of a brain. There is a feeling of medicated neurosis, the valium haze of prescription America when Andrew sings “Tie me up in a red ribbon// teach me how to be a person” on the doom laden Flood to Flood, although trying to pin Liars’ ephemeral lyrics down to a solid meaning has always been a thankless task.
Towards the last third of the album, flashes of current techno rear their head—the metronome, minimal 909 drum pattern on His and Mine Sensations and the housey hand claps on the surprisingly kinetic Brats- these familiar motifs are then disoriented and undermined by the bands love of the wilfully twisted. On Brats Andrew slurs and falsettos over the 4/4 thud, turning it into a squalling glorious mess more nightmare than nightclub.
What the band have managed here is a triumph- an album that absorbs influences and reflects them back in an utterly unique way. WIXIW fits easily into Liars canon, and will be both familiar and brand new to fans of the band, but, with the screaming and witchcraft of previous albums absent, is also their most easily accessible work to new fans. They are looking increasingly like America’s answer to Radiohead, able and keen to evolve without ever losing sight of their own particular brand of genius. Essential listening.
Stream the entire album below:
Liars – WIXIW by Mute UK