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Artist: Liars

Album: Liars

Label: Mute

Review date: Aug. 16, 2007

And here we see the inevitable fallout of innovation, the embrace of originality giving way. Liars got underway in 2000 and quickly became one of the flagship bands (among the Rapture, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the Walkmen, as well as the Strokes before them) as NYC’s selfless response to the distress call of a rock scene on its last legs. They were also the first band to really take a critical hit for following their whims under the mantle of rock music, as 2004’s They Were Wrong, So We Drowned sank into the mud, a pariah that scattered the group across continents. That record, and last year’s follow-up Drum’s Not Dead, proved to be as challenging a record that a band in their position could likely conceive. They still balanced themselves on the post-punk stilts that we all thought couldn’t steady themselves on for much longer, operating out of a traditional band line-up and rock-centric frameworks. These were murky, difficult records of their own caliber – a danger room of processed percussion and strenuous experimentalism, strategies that peers from the other side of the fence (Black Dice, Animal Collective, etc.) gave up long ago. Few considered the degree of difficulty in their works, especially when obscured by crowd-scaling antics and drum-kit destruction.

Whether the decision to carry on rockin’ is an enlightened one or not makes no difference outside of the personal tastes of the listener. The right talents can find ways, no matter what the means. This concept looms heavily over Liars, the fourth album that plays like the sophomore slump we all feared. It’s a concise, tightly-wound record, the most traditional they’ve ever made, even when held up against their debut They Threw Us in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top. That one was boilerplate punk/funk and certainly nothing new, but the force of how the band carried itself, both in the studio and live, gave Liars an ownership of that sound lost on their peers. The new Liars, exhausted by the weight of heavy conception, is a wardrobe crasher, a sample sale with no dressing room, and though hardly anything fits, they bought it anyway.

The one-sheet for this album stresses how the band simply tried to “make a record” without the weight of concept, that they were revisiting the music of their teenage years. In that essence, then, they have built up a group of songs so restless and unsatisfying that a group of teenagers with the proper training could have made them, or likely something better. It’s a concept in and of itself – a tribute to the music that led them here – and if it was intentional, it’s one whose punchline they’ll have a hard time shaking off. Their own ideas have always been handled with grace, but the sounds of others get pushed around like wet snow. The songs stand alone, unable to connect to one another.

It’s all too easy to charge these 11 songs as sounding so slight, even when pinned down by evergreen influences they know inside and out, like the cathedral despair of Sonic Youth’s guitar twinge or the ceaseless, damp depression of Joy Division. A poorly-framed track like “Freak Out” is coated with JAMC-style rush, and collapses underneath all that reverb and distortion. The Indian burn of Polvo gets a similar mishandling in “Pure Unevil,” its muscular frame susceptible to a pinprick of poor planning and a lumpy execution. Even the ballistic charge of more modern inspirations like the VSS (evidenced in opener “Plaster Casts of Everything”) and Oneida (all over the second half of the record, especially on “Cycle Time” and “Clear Island”) feels either too tight to button, or billowing and irregular, often within the same song. Great care was paid to revisit the oxidized noise of earlier efforts (witness the hollow decomposition of “Leather Prowler,” so close to those triumphs that it could have been an outtake), but the lack of ambition in songwriting reins in any sort of forward movement.

Only the album’s closer, “Protection,” works, and what a song it is – one of their best to date. Organ dirge presses down on spoken reminiscences of childhood with a catechism of despair that marks the only moment of realism here, of a heartfelt embrace of the past; ultimately, a wheezing project grasping at youth with the deadened eyes of the aging. Gearing up as the openers for a huge U.S. tour in support of Interpol, another band from their graduating class that’s now merely treading water, Liars are going to be paid the second most attention of their career. Perhaps their live show can salvage this material, but the record registers barely a glimmer of inspiration.

By Doug Mosurock

Other Reviews of Liars

They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top

They Were Wrong, So We Drowned


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View all articles by Doug Mosurock

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