erasing clouds

Liars, They Were Wrong, So We Drowned

reviewed by john wenzel

I'm only vaguely familiar with Liars' 2001 breakthrough They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, but I do remember one thing: it was really good. It made tangible and meaningful the abstracted term "dance-punk." Hell, it probably legitimized the genre. And whether or not Liars want to be associated with dance-punk is irrelevant in my book. It's like trying to divorce Bob Pollard from lo-fi, or Pavement from slacker rock; the descriptions may not be totally fair, but they're apt, and there's no turning back now.

Either as a violent reaction to that pigeonholing or as an admirably conceived artistic departure, Liars' new album They Were Wrong, So We Drowned radically re-imagines the band as an unrepentantly avant-garde noise trio. Of the 10 tracks, only a couple even remotely resemble dance-punk. Opener "Broken Witch" sounds like Sonic Youth's "Bull in the Heather" stretched over a splintery rack and covered in smoking embers. "Blood!" lead singer Angus Andrew repeatedly shrieks at the end, as if he's splashing gleefully in a puddle of his own.

The rest of the songs, with few exceptions, are equally baffling. With pretentious, run-on titles and only the hint of organic instrumentation, you wonder if Liars aren't a) consciously eschewing their sound and trying to redefine the parameters of what it means to be a band, b) completely and hopelessly insane, c) brilliantly ahead of their time, or d) all of the above. It's commendable, but like Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, not very listenable. Apparently They Were Wrong… is a narrative about witch hunts or witch trials or something. That's all well and good, but if the listener can't get through the first track, what's the fuckin' point?

"There's Always Room on the Broom" overplays its central sound effect (a sound like someone trying to fax a kitten through a cheese grater) so much that the tuneless vocals and sublimated (but curiously catchy) percussion might as well be inaudible. "We Fenced Other Houses with the Bones of Our Own" builds legitimate momentum with distorted tribal drumming and Wayne Shorter-by-way-of-ABBA chants, but squanders it by going absolutely nowhere.

To be fair, the production and instrumentation are pretty damn adventurous and unique, combining heretofore inconceivable skronks and blips with ominous digital fuzz and ridiculously over-processed guitars. "Hold Hands It Will Happen Anyway" could be a mid-'80s Sonic Youth outtake, if Thurston Moore were a jittery Australian meth addict. Album closer "Flow My Tears the Spider Said" briefly redeems the affair with pleasant melodies, deliberately-paced organs, and walls of out-of-focus vocals, but eventually peters out to a senseless anti-conclusion.

If I had happened upon a Liars concert where they played these songs and I was unfamiliar with their first album, I wouldn't stick around long enough to order a beer. Since I know what they're capable of, I'm tempted to think this might just be a stop-off on the longer road to world domination. Whether they're mutating into some new creature or just plain going crazy, Liars are a band to pay close attention to, and always at your own peril.


Issue 21, March 2004

this month's issue
about erasing clouds

Copyright (c) 2005 erasing clouds