Thursday, 5 November 2009

A Retrospective - Liars...

A bit of good news today, one of my favourite bands, Liars, will be releasing a new album in the new year. Sisterworld will be the band's fifth album and the first since 2007's Liars.

With Liars you should always expect the unexpected. My first experience of them was when they supported Sonic Youth back in 2001 and their funky bass lines and jittery rhythms immediately drew me in. Not to mentioned the fact that they were so loud they burst ear drums.

Their back catalogue is filled with little gems surrounded by some of the weirdest music produced (and listed to) in recent years. They're a band for whom the 'concept album' is not a display of vulgar self indulgence but rather self indulgence is their raison d'ĂȘtre. So here's a bit of a retrospective for the uninitiated:

Liars - They Through Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top (2001)

Beginning in 2001 the band's debut album was something of a revelation. The jittery rhythms, funky post-punk bass and vocals which ranged from the melodic to the hyperactively deranged (not to mention lyrics that would've made Burroughs proud) meant that Liars were instantly subsumed into that fledgling New York art-punk movement of the turn of the century. It's a movement I have touched on previously when discussing the Sonic Mook Experiment.

Liars certainly knew their influences and the first album includes an interesting adaptation of a sample taken from the seminal New York funk group ESG, as well as taking other musical cues from luch post-punk luminaries as The Fall, Sonic Youth and Gang of Four.

The thing that for me really sets this first album apart from the others is that as well as being musically very interesting pretty much every track is dancable. I think over the years, in various clubs, I must've heard pretty much every track played...except the last track...oh yeah...the last track is 30 minutes long.

Track highlights:

Liars - Mr, You're on Fire Mr

Liars - We Live NE of Compton

Liars - Grown Men Don't Fall In The River Just Like That

Liars - They Were Wrong So We Drowned (2004)

After the relative hit of the first album (critically speaking if not commercially) it takes some balls to then wait 3 years before producing a concept album based on obscure German folk law, specifically witches and Walpurgis Night. The tracks alternate between the viewpoint of the witches and the viewpoint of the terrorised villagers.

The album sounds extremely stripped down compared to their first album. The sparse percussion and absence of bass guitar, combined with the reliance on repetition and creation of soundscapes makes the album a challenging listen but I was lucky enough to see them perform the album and 'performance' was the right word. I don't know what the rest of the audience were expecting but I'd managed to get my hands on an advanced copy and I was fully up to the challenge.

The album was originally panned but I think in retrospect it is perhaps underrated. Especially when considered in the context of the kind of band that Liars have become. This is a band finding the confidence to explore sounds and techniques that interest them and not merely continuing with a style that has been successful.

Track highlights:

Liars - There's Always Room On The Broom

Liars - We Fenced Other Gardens With The Bones Of Our Own

Liars - Drum's Not Dead (2006)

An ironic response to one of the criticisms of their previous album, 2006's Drum's Not Dead is often cited as the band's best album to date.

In a departure from the toned down, sparse sound of the previous album this album is (naturally) dominated by percussion, with pounding drums and other percussive techniques used throughout. The result isn't as tiring as it might seem from that description.

Recorded in Berlin the track bears some testament to the musical heritage of that city with some krautrock influences being heard throughout, that said the music is not without its moments of beauty (and that's not to say that krautrock isn't/wasn't either). This is the first Liars album to show a personal degree of vulnerability, whereas the albums before were interesting art projects this sometimes created a barrier between the listener and the band. In this album a few of those barriers begin to come down.

Liars - It Fit When I Was A Kid

Liars - Let's Not Wrestle Mt Heart Attack

Liars - To Hold You, Drum

Liars - The Other Side Of Mt Heart Attack

Liars - Liars (2007)

This album probably represents the biggest jump for Liars to date, a move towards something that might be considered 'mainstream' or at least as mainstream as Liars get. Where the other albums challenged their listeners with dense soundscapes and themes and complex interrelations between tracks this album confounds those who look for them.

This is as near as Liars get to pop and whilst it is mad it is still very very listenable.

Combining what can just about almost be described as something approaching traditional rock tracks along with more dancey electro tracks there is a real feel that the album was made to let off some stream. It's not the most coherent Liars album but its probably the most fun to listen to.

Track highlights:

Liars - Houseclouds

Liars - Plaster Casts of Everything

Liars - Freak Out

So it's with obvious glee that I await the fifth album, Sisterworld, which, from the look of the promotional material, looks like it might be a move towards a more ambient Liars, perhaps with some nice reference to nature...or it could be a big hoax and the new album will be full of brass and swing bands...we will just have to wait and see.


  1. Great news, made my week. "They Were Wrong" is just insanely good, a genuinely creepy record. Saw them in a club in Sydney after Drum's Not Dead, 300 people yelling "WE ARE THE ARMY YOU SEE THROUGH THE RED HAZE OF BLOOD! BLOOD! BLOOD! BLOOD!" was fantastic.

  2. I've just got my fingers crossed that they're going to tour and come to Lisbon...either that or they'll play the Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona again next year.

  3. Am I the only one to think There's Always Room On The Broom is a perfect dance track? Maybe a suggestion for one of your DJing nights?

    Maybe you could sneak in Einstruzende's Tanz Debil and this particularly great video on VJ:

  4. Cisco, keep your fingers crossed for another night...I'm having venue issues. I emailed Sou Movimento e Arte yesterday and I'm still waiting for a reply (it could just be taking them this long to decipher my terrible Portuguese). I'm also going to try Club Ko-zee in Santos. Any other ideas for venues?

  5. You might try Bacalhoeiros and Crew Hassan, or Bars in Bairro Alto who are always looking for DJs.

  6. I'll give them a go, I sent some emails a while back (to no response) but I'll have actually go and have a word I soon as I get a spare minute. How was Saturday? I was feeling awful and funnily enough so was everyone I was out with on Friday, a bug must've gone around.