Liars – ‘WIXIW’

LA’s supreme rule-breakers have unleashed the unnerving sounds of their lost inner world

Rules are made to be broken, but the classy iconoclast knows you need to learn the rules first so that you can break them properly. LA-based professional pin-dodgers Liars no sooner establish the parameters of a sound than they’re crashing through them. The trio’s past five records have seen them move from the abrasive dance-punk of their debut, through the noise tantrums of ‘They Were Wrong, So We Drowned’ and creepy atmospherics of ‘Drum’s Not Dead’ to something as close as this lot ever get to conventional rock songs on ‘Liars’ and ‘Sisterworld’, culminating in the gormless, gleeful, grungy bounce of single ‘The Overachievers’, Liars’ indie disco moment. 

But true to form, they’re bored with all that now. As singer Angus Andrew told Pitchfork recently, “We wanted to get back to sound and the intents behind songs, rather than the more standard rock or blues ideas.” They’ve changed both instruments and working methods, relying mainly on synths and sequencer. Andrew and bandmate Aaron Hemphill withdrew to a house in a distant part of LA to focus on noises in tiny and intense detail, wiring up brooms and dripping cloths. Liars being left alone in a remote location to mess about with machines didn’t necessarily point towards something restrained or subtle. And indeed, they came out with tracks like the aggressive ‘Brats’, a rampaging techno banger chased by Andrew’s distorted growl, which recalls Mark E Smith’s work with Mouse On Mars as Von Südenfed. The fact it stands alone here as an in-your-face moment, and that album opener ‘The Exact Colour Of Doubt’ is so pale and unsettling, with clouds of swirling synths, a heartbeat rhythm and a charged nerviness, feels like a very deliberate choice. 

The band wanted their own lostness in this new sound world to convey the record’s themes of emotional doubt. If ‘Sisterworld’ was about how they related to their LA environment, this is about how they relate to their own heads, each other and those closest to them; the discomforts of intimacy. The kraut-tinged ambiences and lush intensity of ‘No.1 Against The Rush’ cradles Andrew’s conflicted croon of “I want you… I want you out”.
 They’re masters of mood here, and every moment of loveliness is met with one of insecurity; ‘Octagon’ brings a sense of unease slightly closer, with glitchy, gently clattering beats, reminiscent of the sort of dark digital alleys the likes of Underworld and The Future Sound Of London wandered so well in the ’90s, screeching metallic sounds passing and fading like cars in the night as Andrew mumbles “leave me/I will break your heart”.

‘A Ring On Every Finger’’s sci-fi trip-hop rhythm is glitchily paranoiac, the work song of a shelf-stacking robot in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart. At the centre of the record is the title track, slowing and speeding synths building into nervous tension: “I wish you were here with me/I can no longer take it all/Wish you would not come back to me”. Its palindromic title represents a creative process that brings you back to where you started. Liars aren’t daft enough, after all, to think that by sidelining traditional instruments in favour of synths they’re somehow making a bold leap into the electronic future. What ‘WIXIW’’s working process has given them instead is yet another way to find the manifold, melancholy and menacing nature of Liars. Because once you’ve learned the rules, and broken them, you have to lose yourself to find yourself again.

Emily Mackay