The Liars do not just make records – they make what you could probably
get away with calling something like ‘Repeatable Audio/Visual Installation
Experiences’. Such a hoighty toighty New York Nouveau title may place me
in the same contingent as a twenty-one year old art student who’s just
has his first run-in with Ayn Rand, i.e. firmly in need of a beer and
an ass-kicking (not necessarily in that order mind you) but I’ll have a
Carling and take my lumps like a man because as much as a hefty portion of any art scene
sustains by the tension of its own boot straps sometimes the morosely
accredited deserve the lustful praise lauded upon them by
the, how shall we say, more ‘snobby’ of the population.
The Liars are the perfect example of this.
My first experience with the band was a handful of tracks from their
2001 debut ‘ They Threw Us in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top’ that I
downloaded off Napster and put on one of my infamous ‘Satan’s
Discoteque’ mix-discs. This was the same year many of us were getting acquainted with the
then-fledgling NY scene that eventually gave us bands like The French
Kicks and The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s. The tracks were okay, like the other
bands mentioned there was a decidedly dance-like element tapering the
otherwise stripped down punk sound. I spun them for a while and then
the disc, along with a car stereo and a CD wallet of my other mixes
disappeared from a locked car outside a 5 AM Polish bar on the South
Side of Chicago** one night. After that I forgot about the Liars for a while…
Fast forward maybe a year and I was interviewing the (then) four women
who make up Dissonance-Delly-boppers Erase Errata, trying to explain to
them politely how the first track on their (then) new album At Crystal
Palace, a delightfully jagged little toe-tapper dubbed ‘Driving Test’
seemed to invite automobile accidents when listened to repeatedly while
driving. The girls perked up a bit at my off-hand but not completely
untrue attempt at ice-breaking humor with a slightly worried
exclamation that they hoped their track had not turned out like ‘that
Liars track that everybody gets into an accident with while driving” As much as this intrigued me at the time I’m afraid it didn’t do much to elevate the group to a ‘must listen to now’ capacity, as a lot of my listening at the time was done in the car.
Fast forward again to 2006. Shortly before I moved to LA Mr. Brown gave me a copy of the Liars album ‘Drum’s Not Dead’, mentioning that he’d recently been reading about the bands’ notoriety as an experimental outfit. Frankly this confused me at first, but my first clue should have been the band was now signed to MUTE and although I have not heard everything the label has released, I have never heard anything bad come out of their offices. But because the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s had blown up (and the French Kicks seemed poised just behind them) and of course a whole slew of new stuff had come down the pipes and commanded my attention I had almost without realizing it unfairly relegated the group to a similar status*** as the rest of that early ought’s New York scene, slightly discoloured by its most notable (and irritating) gift to the world, those lovable modeling boys, the ‘we’re-as-bored-doing-this-as-you-watching-it’ underachievers, The Strokes. I gave Drum’s Not Dead a dip and thought it interesting but with the move gobbling up the next several months of my life the album simply became lost in the shuffle.
A month or two after moving I was up late cultivating a buzz and listening to music when I remembered Drum and the fact that the disc had a DVD with it as well. Having never watched it I dimmed the lights and sat back to with the first of three ‘Video Album’ versions. Five minutes in, like the end of one of the few good M. Knight Shamalamadingdong movies from earlier in the decade everything suddenly made complete sense.
The story goes that dropping back down to a like-minded three piece the Liars moved from New York to Berlin, as many great experimental artists of the past three decades have, and underwent a complete aesthetic change. This is not to say that there weren’t unusual tendencies in the earlier albums – I remember the tracks from ‘They Threw Us in a Ditch…’ having certain leanings that suggested someone in the group was a big fan of The Birthday Party, but this… this was not any music I had ever heard before.
From the very first tension-strained chords (?) of Drum opener ‘Be Quiet Mt. Heart Attack’ the listener understands that what they are getting into is most definitely not a rock album. First of all the guitar tuning for the entire opus is an amalgam of experimental philosophy. DFF CBB; DF#F# BAA; and DAD F#AD it is explained in the linear notes, along with extensive (to say the least) diagrams of micing techniques and effects chains. Everything seems to be captured with unbalanced mics and run through strange processes. Because of this the music, while definitely not noise, is like the inner working of a comatose mind – a vast and engulfing ambiance of captive anxiety careening freely over layers of percussion (more than one drum kit, with everyone in the band playing some form of drum often) that pound out eerily psychedelic trances. The video components to the album are, frankly, indescribable even to someone possessed by a tendency to prattle such as myself. Needless to say they are homemade but highly sophisticated and every bit as eerie and surreal as the music itself.
And now the Liars stand to do it again. Somehow I missed 2007’s Eponymous album, having only downloaded a few demos (which were awesome) but never getting back around to follow through on. Earlier today the enigmatic Mr. Brown once again saved the day, alerting me via a cryptic communique that the new album, ‘Sisterworld’ drops on March 9th and is already gaining attention from the rock ‘intelligentsia’ due to a continued mutant aesthetic perhaps best summed up by quoting the press release, pilfered here from Wikipedia but originally brought to light at http://drownedinsound.com/news/4138341-liars-to-return-in-2010-with-sisterworld:
“Sisterworld is Liars’ own space, completely devoid of influence,
somewhere remote from the false promises and discarded dreams amassed
in LA. In it Liars explore the underground support systems created to
deal with loss of self to society“
Add to this the first and only track to see the light of day (despite so close a release date), ‘Scissors’ and its almost Herzogian video and mind-bending packaging (see link to Pitchfork below for extrapolations of both) and I’m starting to think more and more that these guys are the heir to Nick Cave’s Art School drug massacre legacy.
What we have here is yet another CD to usher in what is proving to be a really good year for music and a really bad year for my pocket book.
Fuck it. I’d rather have the music than the money.
Link to Pitchfork: http://pitchfork.com/news/37938-video-liars-scissor/
* Did I mention my friend Steve was passed out inside the car at the time
of the disappearance? And that the car was indeed still locked when I
returned to find said materials absent?
** Not that there’s anything wrong with either the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s or The French Kicks – I think around ’05 I had just grown a little weary of anything even remotely associated with Karen O for a time as her name began appearing everywhere attached to exaggerated claims such as ‘hottest woman in rock’ or ‘best female vocalist since Siouxsie Sioux’. I’ve made my peace with this now that the hype has come back down to reality.