Snapshot Review: Liars – WIXIW [Mute]
Liars are undoubtedly a talented band. They’re also impressively weird, to the point where even some of their most hardcore fans have probably felt a little alienated at times. In effect, they are the onion of bands: multi-layered, not for everybody, and sometimes they’ll draw tears from your eyes. If you’re listening to “The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack”, those tears might be the result of sheer beauty, whereas “Scarecrows On A Killer Slant” could easily bring forth tears of terror. So yeah, it’s not easy to pigeonhole Liars, and they seem to like it that way. Not knowing what to expect from them on each new album is an exciting proposition, even if it doesn’t always work out. For the most part they’ve been smart with career twists and turns, jumping from a concept record about witches (They Were Wrong, So We Drowned) to one that places a huge emphasis on percussion (Drum’s Not Dead) and then attempting to grind out something more straightforwad with heavy post-punk leanings (Sisterworld). On their new album WIXIW, the band once again explores new territory, this time peeling away most of the guitars and focusing on programmed beats and electronica elements. Many are calling it a “Kid A-like shift”, in reference to Radiohead’s steep change in sonic direction after the immense success of OK Computer. Liars frontman Angus Andrew even sounds a little like Thom Yorke on a couple tracks, perhaps most notably on “Ill Valley Prodigies” and “His and Mine Sensations”. Apt as those comparisons might be, the last thing you want to do is try and imitate a record that many believe was the finest thing released in the last dozen or so years. The band hasn’t said that was their intention, so maybe the similarities are wholly accidental. Really the whole “abandon instruments and go electronica” thing has become a plague among artists in recent years, with most citing the apparent limits that guitar and drum combinations have versus the wider realm of programmed sounds. That’s the main reason why Liars did it too, as they’ve said in recent interviews. Hell, that’s probably Radiohead’s excuse as well, only they did it before it was cool. Parts of WIXIW feel like a cop-out because of it though. It’s as if the band has lost confidence in their own ability to generate something original, so they’re creating new music based on sounds and influences they know are cool at the moment. That doesn’t mean the record is terrible or devoid of original ideas though. Opening track “The Exact Colour of Doubt” features calming waves of synths and handclap percussion that is downright beautiful. Single “No. 1 Against the Rush” glides, pulses and tinkers in a very Brian Eno-like fashion, even evolving the final minute of the song into a touch of instrumental madness. Those moments when Liars can condense some of their best elements from earlier records into the more electro-based structures are what work best. The rhythmically complex and bassline-driven madness of “Brats” is the band’s classic rave-up with a synth-etic twist, and “A Ring On Every Finger” puts a Depeche Mode spin on some of their favorite tribal rhythms. Most of these songs are interesting at least in concept, and the closer attention you lend them the more carefully composed they seem. That your perception of this record can change over time definitely makes it worth repeat examinations, even if those changes cause you to like it less. When you’re Liars, that comes with the territory. WIXIW may not be the shining moment for this band, and their own bout of self-doubt spawning its creation isn’t helping, but nobody else could have made this album. Sometimes that’s enough.