Review Summary: Liars unleash a barrage of shameless intensity on their latest iteration.
By now, Liars have quite the reputation for aggressively changing direction with each and every release. Typically, their music acts as the monster behind the unstable door, exuding an ever-haunting presence. With Mess
, the band’s seventh studio album, that monster has finally been revealed, gritting its teeth. Rather than slowly crawling under the listener’s skin as previous albums did, Liars utilize a more beat-oriented approach to break that door down.
Liars first embraced electronics on their last LP, WIXIW
. With the exception of “Brats”, that album bears little resemblance to Mess. Like WIXIW
is primarily an electronic record, yet it eschews much of the cold atmosphere of its predecessor in favor of a more skittish and bombastic frontal assault on the ears. “Mask Maker” is not as much a tone setter as it is a shameless brandisher. The low-pitched utterances that ignite the track might scare off unprepared listeners, but seasoned Liars listeners will recognize the band’s twisted brand of humor. The first few tracks set off what seems to be a dance party for schizophrenics.
Combining slick production with erratic electro-beats and synthesizers, Mess
channels the punk aesthetic that has always factored into the band’s sound, then amplifies it. There is a considerable variety of styles on this album, perhaps more than on any of the band’s previous records. Though the final product is not unified, it's not as if it's supposed to be. Just look at the title. Standout track “Can’t Hear Well” contains an undulating beat that grows organically throughout its duration. However, this song is much more stripped down when compared to tracks like “Pro Anti Anti”, which unleash a sonic fury in a manner that is very entertaining. Still, repetition acts as the hammer and nail that drive intense tracks like “Vox Tuned D.E.D”.
Liars bring some relatively softer moments to the backend of the album as well. “Left Speaker Blown” is perhaps the most intriguing aberration on this album, with its spacious ambience and reverberating vocal melodies. Angus Andrew’s vocals have always formed a solid foundation of Liars’ hair-raising tangents, but they reach a special height on this track in particular. Crooning “I hope you never learn to play music,” Andrew gives this track and the end of the album a feeling of suffocation. “Boyzone” even brings elements of industrial music into what is otherwise a fairly textbook Liars song with its typical eerie undertones. Additionally, the twisting and turning that occurs within “Dress Walker” is equally enticing and unsettling.
However, the main drawback of Mess
is the deficiency of mystery that has accompanied the stylistic shift of this album. The initial thrill slightly wears thin with repeated listens. Maybe it's because Liars have displayed so many different facets on this record, while, on past records, they tended to play their cards close to the vest, as if their music was a puzzle never to be solved. Though Mess
is distinct from any individual work the band has done in the past, it also feels like something of an amalgamation of the attributes Liars have espoused over the years. There’s the belligerence of They Threw Us All In a Trench…
, the visceral nature of magnum opus Drum’s Not Dead
, and the vehemence of their self-titled album all coming together upon the electronic template laid out by WIXIW
Thankfully, Liars have not relinquished their innate creepiness. Their confidence in this new direction shows in the undeniable punch that the album delivers. Though the album tends to wander all over the place, it’s never boring. The statement of intent that Mess
provides is ambiguous at best, but by the time we figure it out, Liars will likely have moved in an entirely new direction. For the time being, we can enjoy Mess
for what it is.
Can’t Hear Well
Left Speaker Blown
Pro Anti Anti
Vox Tuned D.E.D.