Liars - WIXIW
Liars are a band who pride themselves on restlessness. Back in 2001 they appeared to be another cog in the nascent dance-punk scene that spawned Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Rapture. Impressive as it was, They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top wasn’t groundbreaking. By 2006, however, the Brooklyn-based trio had produced a pair of jarring, challenging concept albums that saw the group confound and delight in equal measure.
The latter of the two, Drum's Not Dead, saw the group construct an alternative reality that placed the artistic tension between creativity and self-doubt at its centre, anthropomorphising the opposing forces as the characters Drum and Mount Heart Attack respectively. If it sounds difficult it’s because it was, but it worked beautifully. Holed up in Berlin, the band mixed krautrock, post-punk and ambient on a uniquely kaleidoscopic palette that proved Liars were doing exactly what they wanted.
Since then, the band have continued to follow their singular path, though edging towards slightly more conventional song structures in recent years. 2010's Sisterworld felt like a medley of everything the group had achieved over the last decade; brilliant in isolation but disappointing for its failure to evolve. WIXIW, then, finds Liars at a crossroads; continue to tweak their winning formula or rip up the rulebook completely. Thankfully they’ve gone with the latter.
Sonically, it's an electronic departure in the vein of Bowie's Berlin Trilogy or Radiohead's Kid A/Amnesiac sessions. Indeed, de facto leader, Angus Andrew's frustration at reading software manuals for hours on end echoes the tension that Yorke, Greenwood et al spoke of after they finally emerged from the studio, barely intact, in 2000. Acoustic instruments are generally shunned, then, with the group channeling their inimitable brand of foreboding through an almost exclusively synthesised arsenal of keyboards, drum machines and found sounds.
And so the majority of the album will seem hard to penetrate at first. 'Octagon', for example, places you into a dissonant dystopia abandoned by Richard D James when he turned the lights out after recording 'I Care Because You Do'. As catchy as 'A Ring On Every Finger' is, it sees the boundary between Andrew and his army of machines break down as his melodies merge with the fuzz of synthetic loops to become a single bionic entity.
Despite stiff competition, WIXIW may also be Liars' most obviously nocturnal album. Lead single No. 1 'Against The Rush' takes Neu!’s sound to an altogether darker place as Andrew calmly asserts, "I want you, I want you out," while 'Brats' sees them dabble in industrial dance for the first time.
Of course, there are moments of brightness. Opener 'The Exact Colour of Doubt', for example, is a slice of warm, hopeful ambience that ranks as the band's gentlest song to date. Its panning handclaps provide the only percussion, a crucially organic element in an otherwise synthesised soundscape, while Aaron Hemphill's ascending bassline propels the song gently upwards. Allied with Andrew’s softly cracking murmurs ("I'll always be your friend / I'll never let you down"), it stands as a tender counterpoint to the confrontation found on the group's other openers and, considering the backdrop of upheaval, it sounds like Liars have never been more at ease.
The real key to this constantly shifting album, however, is its title track. Andrew recently spoke about his fascination with the concept of wishing (WIXIW is pronounced 'wish-you') as a process which often results in the participant ending up where they started and this notion of symmetry, conveyed by its palindromic title, is essential to the album's aesthetic. Placed right at the centre of the record, its undulating synths provide a fulcrum around which WIXIW's many energies spin, with Andrew’s contradictions capturing the album’s concern with the changeable nature of human experience: "Now I see it's not enough, I wish you were here with me. I can no longer take it now, wish you would not come back to me." Everything works out from the middle, bookended by the tenderness of the album's first and final tracks, so that even detractors will be forced to recognise WIXIW as a master class in tracklisting.
The outcome is a record which is self-contained; cohesive despite its eclecticism, and wonderfully arresting as a result. Best of all, it's a document of a band who are delighting in the sounds that they're making. Full of conflicts, it's fitting that Liars' are at their most human when surrounded by technology, and like the very best albums, it's one which opens up with repeated listening.
Purchase and listen
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