Album Review: Liars – ‘WIXIW’

The most beautiful day of the year so far.  Straight blue skies.  No clouds.  No breeze.  Still.  Sitting on a bench and reading a book.  Drinking Amstel.  Felt the need to enter my studio and listen to a record… just for a bit… to get out of the rays.  The vinyl is spinning the perfect album for this day.  I even have the window open – a very rare occurrence in a room that is all about keeping sound in!

So I listen to WIXIW by LIARS.  A very strange album title… apparently pronounced ‘Wish You’.  Hmmmmm… not sure which world you’d have to inhabit to pronounce such a collection of letters in that manner.  Anyway… the album starts with a delightful song.  The Exact Color of Doubt.  This song sounds like I imagine sunshine tastes.  Perfick.  Another swig of Amstel.  This bottle is a little warm now.  Luckily I have another to follow… although I opened the other a few minutes ago in preemptive preparation.  Everything’s warming.  I shouldn’t complain.

I’ve loved Liars since their first album.  I had that album going round and round in my car for a long time.  I remember it had a kind of ‘looped’ final track that lasted longer than the whole rest of the album combined.  A journey?  Art rock?  They Threw Us All in a Trench was captivating.  It was different in the extreme.  If I were to listen to it now it would probably sound ‘normal’… but at the time it sounded like half a band.  Slightly dislocated from what everyone else was doing.  Not the greatest album… but far from the worst.  A slightly twilight zone-like middle ground.  The kind of middle ground that is nowhere near the centre of anywhere!

Then came everything that was right… They Were Wrong, So We Drowned.  An album that changed the game.  And yet received review scores so low they could be found providing foundations for foundations.  You have to question reviews.  You have to question their purpose.  Are they a means to turn you onto good music?… or are they a means to give an individual a sense of lofty self-worth?!?  I was never quite the same after They Were Wrong.  My music felt ‘narrow’, ‘restricted’… average.  Yet everyone was out there listening to Coldplay and the Kaiser Chiefs.   Narrow and restricted was selling.  Narrow and restricted will always sell.  Since I formed COTWS I have made a point of expanding everything.  For this reason it’s nice to check back with Liars and see what they’ve been up to.  I didn’t really enjoy the albums after They Were Wrong… even the critically acclaimed Drums Not Dead.  So it is with relish that I proclaim WIXIW as containing moments of God-like genius.  Ha ha!  My album of the year so far.

I’ve lived with this album a fair while now.  I’ve always found the idea of commenting on an album immediately somewhat mystifying.  Initial opinions are historically inaccurate!  Remember Be Here Now?  Ha ha!

WIXIW works as a unified set of songs.  An album… in an albumless age.  I can’t fault the opening track.  Beautiful, swamping layers padding the exterior of your brain.  Then singing!  Actual proper singing.  Not screaming.  Really sweet singing.  This takes a little mind shift to adjust.  Realigning perceptions of what’s to come.   You expect an ordeal from Liars.   Are they growing up?  Are they getting old?  Are they relaxing?  Let’s see.

Octagon drags us back into more familiar territory.  Slightly drawled vocals across a bed of repetitive rhythms.  Distorted string sounds and (slight) abuse.  As part of the tapestry it works.

No.1 Against the Rush is the ‘hit’ on an album with no hits.  This song is the filling of the sandwich, the bread being everything else.  Although the song wouldn’t be totally out-of-place on an ’80s electro compilation album it feels new.  What’s more it feels human.  It sounds like a song Rutger Hauer would play to Harrison Ford to prove that humanity is more than simply being human.  This song is a revelation.  In an age where every mainstream band feels the urge to turn Dubstep and ‘get down’ with the kids here’s a song that forges a new path without taking a sideways glance.  Tunnel vision with a purpose.  Narrow and restricted like narrow and restricted has never been. /swigs Amstel.

This record has an outstanding A-side.  Such momentum that you wonder how the B-side will compete.  Twists and turns of rhythms.  Liars have always been a band more about rhythms and soundscapes than they have about songs.  At least on the albums that I have loved.  “You’re no better than you were”  loops on A Ring on Every Finger.  The past glitters in the new-found darkness.  This is Liars experimenting with electronics, soley, for the first time… however to my ears sonically we’re in very much the same ball park as always.  Maybe it’s like when they say that no matter which guitar you give Brian May, he sounds like Brian May.  You don’t have to chisel your mantlepiece like a genius musical butcher.  Liars can hack at sound and they hack with a clever head.  A little nod to Radiohead here and there.  Ill Valley Prodigies is in danger of a bow to the floor.  But who isn’t influenced by at least a breath of a Radiohead era?

/swigs beer, flips record.

Come on then side B.  Show us what ya got.  WIXIW comes in with hints of a Jeff Buckley 4-track demo.  Loops and singing.  Identifiable song structures… just. Perhaps this is an album for people who have previously dismissed the band as noise-merchants.  If you were of wicked mind you could hazard a suggestion that this record is tame.  However, you’d be wrong.  Maturing is becoming more at one with your goals and gaining intelligence and the ability to use that intelligence intelligently.  This record goes to those places.  For me anyway.  WIWIW is pleading exasperation over a train track rhythm.  It’s that determination again.  Purpose of spirit.  And as Lars said in “Some Kind of Monster“… “When is a song done?”.   Every artist faces that dilemma.  When do you stop layering?  When is a song finished?  Liars seem to stop one brush stroke short.  On their first album I felt they’d stopped a whole paint box short.  Here they are nearing a perfect balance.  I have in the past been obsessed with ‘Wall of Sound’tm.  To the point where I’m taking a step back with my current project and trying to create a sense of space.  Gaps don’t necessarily have to be filled.   Liars aren’t about leaving gaps.  It’s not the old Eric Clapton adage about what you don’t play being what’s important.  It’s more about knowing when to stop.  And knowing why.  That important, eternal query.  “Why?”

The B Side is flying by whilst I type.  A side of rhythms.  Reminds me of  ’60s Alice Cooper.  Like it’s testing you.  Beautiful programming, intricate tapestries, audible vocals.  Messages.  And real instruments – that’s a description of this album by the way… not ’60s Alice Cooper!!!  For what was purported to be a wholly electronic album I’m a little confused.  In a good way.  But confused all the same.  Nothing wrong with being confused.

Who is the Hunter is the lynchpin of side B.  I can feel Jim Morrison.  Then a driving bass drum enters.  Then a massive ’80s arpeggiated synth.  Empty and full.  This album quietly blows me away.  It has bombast without ramming it in your face.  Can you even have quiet bombast?  I’m not sure… but listen to this album to experience.  Experience.  Now strings.  Strings can be conventional.  But they can also be timeless.  I love strings and I’ll always use them.  Nice to hear such an awkward band make such unawkward use of them.

Brats is a bit of a head turner.  It sounds like a Madchester song.  Honestly… you could be listening to the Happy Mondays.  Not sure it fits the ‘spirit’ of the album.  Luckily there are some really cool Faithless-style keys that lift the song.  I would personally knock Brats off the album.  But perhaps that’s simply because it followed such an awe-inspiring song.

And so… before you know it we’re at the end of side B.  The end of the album.  So… what have they got for me?  How are we going to end this partnership?  Annual Moon Words sounds a little Madchester/Trip Hoppy again (with the tiniest hint of Dirty Diana by Michael Jackson?!?).  Not negatively this time.  Comes across as a genuine goodbye.  Goodbye Liars.  Perfect last note.

If I was forced at gun-point (dangerous place.. gun point) to compare WIXIW to one of my albums I would probably say The Galton Detail.  That same kind of aloofness but still keeping an eye on the concept of ‘the song’.  I suggest booking your place on a sunny bench and listening to WIXIW.  Or just drink a few beers in the sun.  Cheers.

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