If there's one thing Liars have taught listeners since their 2001 debut, it's that they're not to be trusted. So how should one take it when Angus Andrew frantically howls the line "I want to run away" over and over at the beginning of the band's new self-titled album? Is it a straight-faced admission to Liars' refusal to stay in a single place for very long—or just another half-truth?
Yes, the band that traded Brooklyn for Berlin has made a career of re-imagining itself with every release. But while their albums have explored different sounds, they've all shared the same manic sensibility. Namely, they buzz with a crazed and haphazard energy. Like mischievous children, Liars delight in their creations as much as in demolishing them. But according to guitarist and founding member Aaron Hemphill, what sounds like so many calculated reversals is—honestly—"not that intentional."
"I guess it seems so drastic because, as a listener, you only get the album," he explains. "You don't talk to us in between. But a lot of time passes between albums and there's a lot of natural growth."
Still, that evolution has included some conspicuous leaps. On their debut, They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, gnarled bass grooves and ESG-copped beats elbowed to the front of an utterly frenzied, cut-and-paste stab at post-punk. When bassist Pat Nature and drummer Ron Albertson left to form No Things, Liars released a concept album about the Salem witch trials, in which songs alternated between the perspectives of the terrified villagers and the persecuted witches. It preserved the debut's noisy experimentation, but the absence of its on-a-dime rhythm section alienated many listeners. Last year's Drum's Not Dead largely ditched guitars for a suite of compositions that were moody, textural, and, unsurprisingly, driven by percussion. But Liars' self-titled fourth album follows the least expected path yet, imposing the band's anarchist sensibility on more conventional pop structures.
"It seemed like a challenge we hadn't really faced yet," says Hemphill. "To take all the experiments we apply to different instruments and apply it to vocal choruses. I think for us it was a lot more experimental to make than, for example, a bass guitar-based album."
For the new album, the band condensed all of the writing and recording into the span of a few months, and Liars bristles with that sense of frenetic urgency and ungrounded electricity. All pummeling drums and nimble, treble-heavy guitar leads, opener "Plaster Casts of Every- thing" is sonic whiplash, while the melodically direct "Freak Out" worships at the altar of the Jesus and Mary Chain. With its nursery rhyme lyrics and neck-snapping dynamics, "Clear Island" is party music for zombies (in the best possible way). In part, this revitalized interest in the concision and immediacy of pop structures came from listening to bands Liars loved as teenagers, from the Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees to Led Zeppelin.
"We noticed that there are some albums that you never get tired of, that have affected us since we were young," Hemphill explains. "[That inspiration is] less about those bands' approaches and what they did structurally than about how they affected us emotionally. We thought that would be a nice thing to meditate on and, hopefully, something that would come out in our record." n