Liars – ‘Mess’

Demented chaos and haywire disco-punk from the LA experimentalists

Heaven knows what would become of Liars if Angus Andrew ever stopped innovating. Just as scientists have suggested that sharks can never stop swimming or else they’ll drown, the LA-based trio have been determined for nearly 15 years to always keep moving on to the next project, the next idea, the next sound. From antsy-dance punk (2001 debut ‘They Threw Us All In A Trench…’) to distorted noise-rock (2006’s ‘Drum’s Not Dead’) to nervy electro (2012’s ‘WIXIW’), settling down and staying still has seldom seemed like an option.

As a result, it’s hard to hold any of their albums aloft as a defining statement. But if there’s a record that sums up the spirit of Liars – that dedication to unsettling, disorientating anarchy – ‘Mess’ may just be it. Witness the devilishly daft brutalism of opener ‘Mask Maker’, which takes the electro blueprint of ‘WIXIW’ but turns it menacing and crazed, mixing a relentless, Factory Floor-like beat with a robot voice commanding “Smell my socks/Eat my face off”. Like their last album, ‘Mess’ is characterised by synths and distorted beats. But unlike the often self-doubting and timid ‘WIXIW’, it revels in its own demented chaos. And demented chaos is Liars’ forte: the squelching, spluttering ‘Vox Tuned D.E.D.’ is the crazed, twisted-metal sibling of ‘Brats’ from ‘WIXIW’; and ‘Pro Anti Anti’ is a nasty banger from a dystopian disco with Angus barking “Before the fire’s out, out, OUT” over sci-fi atmospherics.

Elsewhere, ‘Mess On A Mission’ transforms from nagging, Morse-code blips into haywire dance-punk halfway through, Angus yelping “Fact is fact and fiction’s fiction” as if he’s presiding over a futuristic book-burning. The slithery weirdness of ‘Perpetual Village’ twists this way and that for almost nine none-more-creepy minutes. But it’s the pulsar glow of ‘Can’t Hear Well’ that’s most affecting: an oddly tender track with the same fuzz-drenched synths flickering over Angus’ strangely fragile croon of “You’ll never play the fantasy again”. Squeezed in amid the din, it’s downright discombobulating – but as Liars continue to show, comfort zones only exist as refuges for the unimaginative. 

Ben Hewitt