45 RPM: Liars (Part 1)


They Threw Us In a Trench and Stuck a Monument On Top (2001)

Bass: thick, present, a marriage of groovy and haunting–enough to tow a ship with. Percussion: everybody dance! Guitar riffs: pro-racket, dissonant, snoozing while the drummer and bassist lock the dance party, then attacking with a Public Image Ltd. vengeance. Liars threw a New-No-Wave-New-York party with They Threw Us In a Trench, hailed as the return of post-punk. “Mr Your On Fire” and “Loose Nuts in the Veladrome” act as cracked dance-punk tracks, misfires of Dadaist lyricism chanted along start-stop stutters of heavy ruckus. “Nothing Is Ever Lost” collides a tumbling bass drum with a simple bassline, strange sound effects, and a just-off cat’s-meow riff, a perfectly deconstructed punk song. “The Garden Was Crowded and Outside” uses a typewriter and a telephone dialing as a rhythm for most of the song. Closing the album is thirty-minute drone “The Dust That Becomes Mud,” challenging you to listen the whole way through its murky, shivering depths. Liars’ debut takes a welcomed avant spin on handclaps and Gang of Four worship. It’s the most fun you’ll ever have to Liars.

They Were Wrong, So We Drowned (2004)

An album of shadows and hallucinations. One might imagine if Tom Waits had followed up Closing Time with Bone Machine–Liars have pulled a full pendulum’s swing from odd but accessible fun to whatever the fuck this is. The theme is witch trials, so the style matches the substance: creepy. There are so few guitars on this record, but their appearances are either huge riffs (digi-fuzz belching “There’s Always Room on the Broom” and crunchy noisemaker guitars of “Hold And It Will Happen Anyway”) or background bursts of sweet reverb and delay. There’s a mixed bag of dance rhythms and tribal percussion, complete with recorded effects and multiple drummers. Singer Angus Andrew shifts his vocal style from overexaggerated Australian talkspeak to a falsetto croons, low narration, and shouting. Also, welcome the synths, harsh and processed. “I am the boy/she is the girl/blood, blood.”

“If You’re A Wizard Then Why Do You Wear Glasses?” exemplifies perfectly what happens on this album. It starts off with a rustling sound, then a gentle, overdriven, off-kilter jazz guitar. Different percussion sources stack over each other–a single tribal drum, a wooden tapping, a sudden reverb-blasted snare, loud crashing cymbals. Slight ambient noise in the background. No bass. In two minutes, the song first hypnotizes you into unsettled comfort, then explodes in screams and chaos. Whether it’s tracks like these or the still dance-rhythmed pieces, the influence of Oneidea, Swans and This Heat have penetrated the Liars in a twisted way. “Flow My Tears The Spider Said,” the final song, takes a hokey Vincent Price organ line and actually makes it creepy. Fractured, messy, acidic on all ends–goodbye New York, hello nightmares.

Drum’s Not Dead (2006)

Drum lives here. Drum is actually just two drum kits, and he is most of this album. The rest? Angus Andrews’ falsettos and native chanting, droning guitars unidentifiably burdened with effects, distant pianos, mesmerizing bass, haunting field recordings layered under the songs. It’s hard to say if Drum’s Not Dead is one long movement divvied up into tracks, or just 12 songs that flow together incredibly. Putting this album on shuffle leads any sane listener to lean toward the former. “Be Quiet Mt. Heart Attack!” and “It’s All Blooming Now Mt. Heart Attack” don’t feel like songs as much as they feel like fever dreams. Like with its predecessor, Liars have fine-tuned a record you can’t, try as you might, feel comfortable during. Beautiful vocal melodies are undertracked with off-key shouts and whispers. Everything bleeds reverb and a half dozen other effects typically abused by shoegazers and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. Here, they sound organic, plucked right out of the band’s own nightmares.

“Drum and the Uncomfortable Can” spends two minutes building a military-esque drumline (plus effects) before Angus slides in chanting something surreal. The drums keep building in chaos, and guitar feedback is heard but never addressed. “It Fit When I Was a Kid,” even as the most traditional song on the album, is a one-note bassline and consistent drumbang until the halfway mark. Here, Angus tells you he’ll take you in the woods and tell your friends you slipped, then it decrescendos into a gentler song than before, adding Rhodes piano and bells to the drone. What?

Drum’s Not Dead is lurid, a mescal-induced hellscape juxtaposing elegance and sin. It all culminates in “The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack,” with angelic singing, gentler instruments, comforting lyrics. (Factoid: Angus Andrews used to date  Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Karen allegedly wrote “Maps” as a plea to Andrews to remember her when they were apart on tour, and this song is, allegedly, a response. Listening to them back to back, you’ll believe it.) Few things are this beautiful, especially following such a hideous, grimy forty minutes. It’s impossible not to sound new-agey calling Drum’s Not Dead an “experience,” but there are few ways to word such a cerebral, dramatic record. It’s affecting–you’ll have some feelings about it when it’s over. Let it injure you, you won’t be sorry.

  • Max Kimble

    I like it!