Review Summary: Liars' freaky, atonal concept record (about witches) proves their worst release so far, but still houses some tight songs.
300 years is a long time to hold a grudge. In spite of all the senseless killings, I’m sure even the witch populations of the United States have grown to forgive the people of Salem, Mass. for the infamous Salem Witch Trials by now.
But apparently Liars haven’t.
Or, at least, they hadn’t back in 2004, when they released They Were Wrong, So We Drowned. And if the title of the New York-based band’s sophomore disc doesn’t tell you anything about the lyrical content held within, than I suggest you try out the album’s first track, titled Broken Witch. Bizarrely art-damaged and equally as frightening, Broken Witch is a good introduction to the album as whole, which was a drastic step away from the band’s critically acclaimed debut, They Threw Us All in a Trench & Stuck a Monument on Top. Broken Witch’s refrain is a fractured chant, frantic over spastic drumming and pulsing bass. It climaxes dramatically with Liars vocalist/guitarist Angus Andrew violently repeating the word ‘blood’, as the rest of the band speeds up; bring the song to a fever pitch. Witch is easily the best track on the album, which would be much more of a compliment if the rest of the record managed to be even half as interesting.
But Liars definitely got a couple things right here. For one, the band is a completely new animal. No longer will anyone clump them in the rest of New York’s dance-punk groups, that’s for sure. But Liars suffered a major blow when they lost two key members, both of whose presence is missed here. Pat Noecker’s bass sound is certainly the most noticeably absent. His ridiculously loud parts are what drove most of They Threw Us All in a Trench, after all. But the new, slimmer lineup of Liars has a couple things going for it. The music on They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, is a heck of a lot more original than that of its predecessor, at least. Washington’s The Blood Brothers mention the album as a major influence for the newer material, (which, appropriately enough, is seen as a drastic change from their early stuff) and on tracks like There’s Always Room on the Broom, it’s easy to make the connection. The crunchy, screaming synthesizers, Andrews’ droning voice and the far more ethereal voices of his band mates make for an interesting tune, especially when paired with Julian Gross’ high-hat driven beat (which serves as a lone reminder of the band’s dance punk days.)
On the following track, If Your A Wizard, Then Why Don’t You Wear Glasses? Andrews’ lyrics change viewpoints (something that occurs frequently through-out the album) and the music becomes increasingly ominous. This trend continues on the terrifyingly dark We Fenced Other Houses with the Bones of Our Own, which plays a good Yang to the former song’s tribal screeches and jerky, no-holds-barred-noisy Yin. The rest of the album however, manages to become boring, uninteresting fodder for those who dislike the band’s change in sound. Parts of the second half of the CD (which includes some iffy rehashy kinda things as well as some ill-placed ambient sections) are almost unlistenable, and though it houses the albums best attempt at a pop song, (They Don’t Want Your Corn, They Want Your Kids) Side B proves far less enjoyable than its counterpart. Flow My Tears the Spider Said (a Phillip K. Dick reference, no doubt) ends the album on much less impressive note than one could have hoped for.
To try and end this thing more conclusively, I guess you could just say They Were Wrong, So We Drowned is the worst of the 4 Liars records (Drum’s Not Dead takes Drowned’s flawed sound and fully realizes it, while their eponymous 2007 release runs with this formula, and has Liars creating one of the year’s best) but it probably deserves more credit than some people give it (Rolling Stone; a 1? C’mon.) Put this on and hear Liars reach both peaks (Broken Witch, We Fenced Our Houses…) and valleys (Flow My Tears…, etc.) and come out somewhere in the middle.