Liars | Liars (Mute)

cd_liars.jpgLiars is just as freaky and formula-defying as before—it’s just that there isn’t a theme or concept this time per se, unless the concept is Liars simply trying to make music without a fictional backdrop.

 

 

 

 

 

Okay class, which of the following items is not like the others? a) An indie rock band. b) Another indie rock band. c) A third indie rock band. d) Liars. e) One more indie rock band. The correct answer, of course, is d) Liars.

Yes indeed, the former pride of Brooklyn—now split between Los Angeles and Berlin—is about as different a rock trio as you could want, and God love ’em for it. Don’t believe the recent press trying to make the case that Angus Andrew, Aaron Hemphill and Julian Gross have made a more "normal," song-oriented platter for their fourth, eponymous release after the conceptual weirdness of their last two projects. Nope, Liars is just as freaky and formula-defying as before—it’s just that there isn’t a theme or concept this time per se, unless the concept is Liars simply trying to make music without a fictional backdrop.

But no one listening to "Leather Prowler" or "The Dumb in the Rain" from the new release is going to simply exclaim, "Yeah, those Liars dudes are finally making some genuine rock ‘n‘ roll." The importance of Liars in the scheme of things is precisely because they don’t just bring the rock…there’s something else up their sleeves. And I wish they didn’t feel compelled to explain it in interviews; they’re one of the few modern bands who evoke mystery, an undervalued quality in today’s music marketplace.

Truth be told, Liars seem more like a tribe than a rock group. They share a certain cultural aesthetic, speak a common language and make sounds that have an undeniably wild, tribal quality (Gross’s hypnotic drumming is certainly a key element). "What Would They Know" is a good example: the clangorous electric guitars and low-pitched, murmured vocals are more in the vein of some deep-forest chant than a rock song. Same with the striking "Pure Unevil"—all texture and dark atmospherics. The percussion and the rather mournful, recurring electric guitar motif that kicks in after a minute or so, are evocative of some remote musical wilderness—an unsettling but not necessarily unwelcoming place where most musicians and listeners simply don’t go.

But Liars are at home there, and the trademark spooky falsetto of Andrews has this ritualistic quality to it that was perfect for the underrated They Were Wrong, So We Drowned in 2004, as well as last year’s justly praised Drum’s Not Dead. Andrews uses that voice to shout "I wanna run away/ I wanna run away/ I wanna bring you, too," an appropriate opening lyric in first single "Plaster Casts of Everything." There’s a riff approximating punkish directness here, but Andrews’ wail and the eerie "Uuuuuuuuunh" being sung/moaned by his bandmates along with him on every other couplet, are unquestionably swathed in otherness.

There are some almost normal songs, though. "Houseclouds" is sleek and funky, despite the odd keyboards, and "Sailing to Byzantium" is an engagingly rendered tune that’s probably what passes for a ballad in Liarsville. "Freak Out" pays tribute to late ’60s psychedelia, the kind 13th floor elevators specialized in…and "Protection" is downright emotional, a stirring song about lost memories that blends Pink Floyd keyboards and Flaming Lips-style vocals rather hauntingly.

But the general vibe on Liars is still one of off-the-trail exploration, something dark, discordant and quite deliriously captivating. "Why does this feel so appealing/ I am overwhelmed," sings Andrews on "Clear Island." Don’t know, guys, but please keep doing what you do, ’cause you’re about as vital a tribe of sonic trailblazers as we’ve got in American rock today. A- | Kevin Renick

RIYL: My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Flaming Lips’ weirder stuff

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