Liars | Drum’s Not Dead (Mute)

They’ve unleashed something dark, fierce, and hypnotic on this third outing, partially inspired by a move to Berlin.

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Do you have to be weird yourself in order to appreciate weird music? I pondered that question around the time of Liars’ previous album They Were Wrong So We Drowned. I found that disc mesmerizing, but most critics were put off—maybe a concept album about witches employing unnerving chants and jarring percussion just wasn’t their thing. But Liars trio Angus Andrew, Aaron Hemphill, and Julian Gross apparently had a creative epiphany during that record; the attentive listener could feel it. It was something about the energy of creative freedom—the artistic possibilities one might embrace by disregarding conventional wisdom, wandering off the beaten path and being open to adventure.

So Liars headed out for sonic realms unknown, and sure, the results have been weird. But as evidenced by their stunning new album Drum’s Not Dead, the group’s at a peak of inspiration now, dancing with their muse and plumbing the primal depths of modern music in memorable fashion. They’ve unleashed something dark, fierce, and hypnotic on this third outing, partially inspired by a move to Berlin. In the press release, Andrew explains: “It’s the idea of dealing with loss or change…how do you recover from that, and what that recovery can lead you to.” Two fictional characters are at the heart of the album: “Drum,” the productive spirit of creative confidence, and “Mount Heart Attack,” the symbol of self-doubt and stress. The songs capture the tension between these opposing forces and, in the process, reveal plenty about the hard-fought battle of Liars themselves to make vital, challenging music.

Tribal drumbeats, eerie, layered vocals, and off-kilter, sometimes clanging guitar sounds power these 12 formula-defying tracks. “A Visit From Drum” is a particularly riveting piece, with its drum circle–like percussion and a simple but evocative two-note guitar sound. The spooky high vocals sing about being “on the other side,” which is appropriate since this unusual music definitely takes you somewhere else. “Drum Gets a Glimpse” features a rather mournful but pretty melody and high vocals (“There’s so much that we could say”) alternating with low ones (“You speak in tongues”). “The Wrong Coat for You Mt Heart Attack” is mostly dark ambience—a ghostly soundscape in which something unsettling seems to be lurking, both in the theme and the actual arrangement. “Hold You, Drum” is a mind-blower with more pounding drums and assorted effects.

Only the relatively serene “The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack” is anywhere close to being a normal song, its plaintive “I won’t run far/I can always be found” meant to be reassuring after a dark journey in which one’s psychic moorings are mostly loose. But this stuff is potently interesting, and not much like anything else in modern rock. The disc includes a DVD of three separate visual interpretations of the entire album—36 videos total. It’s a dazzling, precedent-setting audiovisual tour de force.

On every level, Liars succeed with Drum’s Not Dead. This is a groundbreaking work of avant-rock and the most startling album of the year so far. You don’t have to be weird to appreciate it, but it’ll send a mighty surge of voltage through your psychic circuitry if you are.

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