Review Summary: Instead of hurling its rider off the tracks, WIXIW manages to make a smooth journey to the same depths and heights as the albums before it.
The fog comes
On little cat feet.
It sits looking
Over harbor and city
On silent haunches
And then moves on.
It has been said that poetry is the most difficult form of writing because it is the shortest. Every word gets scrutinized- there’s no space for flaws or purposeless detail. Carl Sandberg’s Fog is perfect because it succeeds such scrutiny; everything but the most essential is stripped from his description: setting ( harbor, city), metaphor (little cat feet, haunches), and plot/ direction (comes, sits, moves on). It’s this same bare-bones approach makes WIXIW Liars’ most approachable work to date.
Gone are the Sisterworld guitar freakouts or Drum’s Not Dead percussion assaults; any listener familiar with the Liars discography will quickly discover that WIXIW is the band’s quietest record. As for guitar, it’s not really here at all. Two measly tracks boast acoustic guitar, the only acoustic-sounding instrument on the record. Instead we’re left with drum machines and synthesizers. But instead of alienating and robotic, WIXIW’s techno-instruments are simple and purposeful. Instead of a gauntlet, Liars has created a pathway; WIXIW’s experimentation tends towards being interesting instead of challenging.
As you can guess, WIXIW is very much an electronic record. The repetitive looping and the steady beats are here; so are the vocal snatches and tweaks. And yet Liars has always had a profound ear for dynamic interest. Just before a sound or mood wears out its welcome, something snaps into a higher gear, shifts, or drops out entirely. During the first half of title track, a swirling organ line and a simple drum beat back Angus Andrew’s drawn out vocal lines, slowly intensifying until the organ spirals down into isolation. It then crescendos as other textures begin to form, swelling only to drop out entirely. After a couple seconds, the organ and drums crash back in, far more threatening than before. Out of a very few instruments, Liars crafts an entire range of energies and tones in each song, never allowing any one idea to be overused or to remain static. While WIXIW never reaches the loudness or speed of other Liars records, it doesn’t have to- there’s so much variation in each track that even the understated often feels extreme.
This contrasting trick takes WIXIW to extraordinary heights for without ever having to take obvious leaps. Take the opener The Exact Color of Doubt, which shimmers in a peaceful, beautiful web of electric guitar and synthesizer pads. Stumbling reversed snare hits bolt the atmosphere to the ground until the simple addition of lilting, steady hand claps allows the entire track start floating into space. And in its last minute, Liars rebuild single No. 1 Against the Rush into a malfunctioning machine starting with a single new percussive synth riff.
And yet while its songs shift and transform, the album as a whole is much more focused. Every song sounds relatively similar- icy synthesizers, clicking drum machines, Andrew’s subdued vocals. The smooth transitions between tracks augment this feeling of cohesion, which during WIXIW’s weaker moments threatens to turn into ‘samey-ness’. Much of the record is dark; whenever major chords hit, they function as breaths of fresh air and glimmers of hope. But there’s enough light to prevent WIXIW from turning into something overwhelming. His and Mine Sensation functions as a mid-album grasp at ignorance as bliss, and the peaceful, almost campfire-song-esque closer Annual Moon Words is a beautiful departure back out of WIXIW’s frame of mind.
Liars have managed to create an album that’s both intensely focused and relentlessly dynamic. But instead of hurling its rider off the tracks, WIXIW manages to make a smooth journey to the same depths and heights as the albums before it. It’s the Liars record that strips away the most abrasive qualities of the band, leaving an accessible core. And in this case, like a great advertisement said, less is most certainly more.