Liars - Liars

"Well, Liars are like my favourite band ever, an example in that they’ve constantly adhered to change over three records but they’ve never done anything to please other people."
- Simon Taylor-Davis of Klaxons

Liars' fourth missive was issued this week, and listening to it I've come to both completely agree with, and yet dispute, the above quote, one which always stuck in my mind when listening to 'Drums Not Dead'. That is, because, Liars are a band so unchained to, yet so aware of, their already-developed sounds. They never sound the same across albums, and yet their entire discography can be conceived as a dialogic process, each new work answering, extending, denying, informing and being informed by its predecessors.

2001's debut They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top (herein Trench) was a forerunner of 'dance punk' before it was pinned down as such a genre. Self-knowingly amusing, and yet an undeniable force of art-punk fuzz and distorted synth - "cyborg junkyard rock" said Pitchfork. It garnered the band a sizeable fanbase, despite the thirty-minute-plus buzzing drum loop of final track 'This Dirt Makes Mud'.

Such a song proved to be frustrating foreplay for their second foray, the dangerously experimental They Were Wrong, So We Drowned (2004) (herein Drowned), a title which proved interestingly prophetic, as the album was broadly critically loathed - if the 'trench' and 'monument' was the acclaim and expectation that results from deifying a band for spearheading a scene and sound, then this album was the point at which those expectations were strongly countered and the band subsequently drenched in negative reviews. Drowned itself worked almost entirely in opposition to the debut, its loose, oblique, bricolaged Other.

It wasn't until Drum's Not Dead (2006) that Drowned was truly understandable, and critical reassessment went into overdrive as listeners recognised the second album as a crucial bridge (and break) between the tight debut and the percussive assault of this third offering. At once the band's most accessible and cuttingly avant-garde work, Drum's Not Dead told the tale of two friends (metaphors for dichotomous creative impulses) Drum and Mr Heart Attack, who journeyed through a neo-tribal world of synth-skewed drums. Again, a strangely self-descriptive title for its reception, this third album proved the band's creative abilities certainly weren't batshit insane (as some suspected with Drowned) and re-gained them a strong following.

Liars is the fourth in this process of (re)definition, and this time it seems like something of a recombination of all the band's previously elements - punk funk (or, broadly, a 'rock' impulse), heady experimentalism and ritualistic drum-scapes - and yet also it is none of these.

In a sense, Liars surfaces a previously submerged element to their work, namely, their ability to write a fucking cracking rock track, as the band play in relation to certain music histories, touching on elements from Led Zepellin to 60s garage and Jesus and Mary Chain (all put through a blender, mind). Pragmatics does seem somewhat the move here, and an easy label for this record (which I just used, evidently) is that it is one of "actual songs" (!). And yet, it's all drenched in a certain dank space, like a dungeon, and is pervaded by an abidingly GOTHIC aesthetic. Percussion, too, like every other album, is the underlying foundation to these songs, even on tracks that don't seem to feature heavy drumming
We've always used drums as the foundation of how to write a song, and that generally comes from a lack of musicianship on my behalf. Aaron would play a drumbeat and I would figure out how to do something with that.
- Angus Andrew

You know what, though? Between songs, the album itself doesn't even 'adhere' to any one sound - tell me the driving crunch of Plaster Casts of Everything and the (albeit crackled) dreamy Pure Unevil are by the same group (the first half of the album almost explicitly works on a one-two sequencing of juxtapositions, in fact)? And yet, of course, they are - because Liars stamp their character on everything they record, even if that character is somehow, counterintuitively, defined by differance.

Of course, much of this post (especially the preceding two paragraphs) has seen me oscillate between 'they do this' and then 'yet they also...'. This is nothing less than the byproduct of an attempt at describing a band who marry two ostensibly contradictory impulses: the desire to never sound the same, and the one to develop a band's musical identity.

Liars is Liars, indeed, but they're also liars.

Liars - Grown Men Don't Fall in the River, Just Like That (from Trench)

Liars - If You're a Wizard Then Why do You Wear Glasses? (from Drowned)
Liars - Drum and the Uncomfortable Can (from Drum's Not Dead)
Liars - Plaster Casts of Everything (from Liars)

2 riffs:

Unknown said...

Drum's not Dead is outstanding. It has this haunting and dark aesthetic that was completely different from other records that were released/listening to at the time, and as you say, from their previous work. I love how it almost feels like a journey through the recesses of some dark dream/nightmare; so abstract yet gripping, and with flashes of delicacy and beauty littered throughout. They know how to crate a mood so well, and maintain it. It's just a shame that their live performances didn't seem to recreate this as competently. Although singularly the songs are good, there's something synergistic when listened to as a whole - and the significance of these tracks is revealed through their sound and positioning in relation to the others – I think this is what’s key to creating that fantastic atmosphere.

Lawson said...

I dunno Oliver; I saw them play at the Corner a while back on their Drums Not Dead tour (before I'd heard the album) - they played more or less the entire album, loud as fuck, and it was amazing. It was tribal.