Liars are stubborn. Their music defies categorization, if only because they won’t linger on a sound long enough to let you pin them down. Critics that hated them once laud them today. Audiences that found their music impenetrable come to find it oddly appealing. Liars couldn’t care less. Their career is one of personal musical shapeshifting unsoiled by the grimy hands of onlookers. This is the kind of band that would lock themselves away in their flat-turned-studio and close the blinds until they can’t quite remember if its day or night. Well, the hermits have emerged once again, and they come bearing a new testament.
It would be naive to be shocked by the strong stylistic shift from 2011’s “Sisterworld” to “WIXIW”. Something similar has happened between every other Liars album, and explanations abound for this specific incident. A shot at the mainstream? Probably not. This record actually has fewer singles than its predecessor, which was, overall, a far more terrifying experience. It could be that all the clanky guitars were sapped away by the influence of the L.A. club scene. Not unlikely. More than anything, “WIXIW” represents a summation of electro-rock in the post-Kid A era. The band’s origins in the New York Dance-Punk scene make the move to a more electronic sound unsurprising, and lend another layer of meaning to that damned palindromic title. They left dance music to explore the darker, louder corners of the musical world, and now they’re back. People who knew them before say something’s changed. You can see it in their eyes.
This album is satisfying in its diversity, but still feels like a well bound product. Significant attention is directed towards developing a palpable ambiance. Individual lines and samples get lost amongst one another, supplanted by complex textures of sound. These tracks are incredibly thick, but they don’t sound it. A careful observation of, for example, the album closer, “Annual Moon Words”, reveals three distinct guitar tracks, two drum-tracks, and a double vocal track, along with the expect synths and harmonies, all treated carefully in a way that roots the song in a place with dimensions and walls and doors and windows. It’s spatial music.
The title track is the high point of the record, musically and emotionally, that becomes more and more satisfying with each listen. It’s a brooding epic that plays like a storm at sea, cymbals crashing like waves dashed against the rocks, synths twisting and whistling like fifty-mile-an-hour winds. You’ll be pressed to find a number you can’t dance to, even if you feel like you’re dancing for your life (“Octagon”). Slower tracks like “Who Is the Hunter” are generally afforded salvation through inventive instrumentation, and there really isn’t a place where this album gets definitively dull.
If this band isn’t on your “To watch” list, you probably haven’t listened to them yet. An excellent effort by an excellent group, and certainly one that warrants a few return listens.