1.22.2010

Liars - Sisterworld


Liars are very into concepts...or stories...or themes...or something like that when it comes to describing their albums. One of them was about the Salem Witch Trials. Another told of the relationship between two characters named Drum and Mount Heart Attack. The tales that weave through their work are never apparent on the surface and, with all due respect to them as storytellers, have little to no bearing on one's understanding or enjoyment of the albums as a whole. So, I've decided not to take any notice of the universe-building that may or may not have gone into their newest record, Sisterworld, and appreciate it on a purely aesthetic level.

Liars have a few speeds in which they operate, and two volumes: mink mitten and sandpaper-coated hammer. It's strange that a band with so few gears can express such a dynamic emotional range. They easily inject a sad vulnerability into the nasty, bottom-heavy riffing of the first single, "Scissor". A song that might otherwise conjure a polka-metal vibe, albeit stripped to the bone. A lot of the width of Liars' spectrum can be attributed to Angus Andrew's vocal delivery. He would never be called the world's best singer, but the drones of his slightly out of tune multi-tracking often reward close listening. The fluctuating beat rates of voices approaching and receding from unison can give the impression of countless other ghostly pitches to a patient and unbiased ear.

The most critically acclaimed of their recordings is still Drum's Not Dead, which rarely rose above a whisper when compared to the frequent bombastic moments found in their work before or since. The texture of the instruments and the acoustic space in which they were captured were considered the keys to that collection's artistic success (along with cover art that resembles an exploding 3-D diagram of a hamburger). But, Liars are at their best when they're flexing their collective rhythmic bicep alongside the raspy mewing, and in Fibonacci fashion, they've folded the lessons of previous efforts into the product of today.

The instrumental palette has opened up a bit for the band on Sisterworld as well. There are tense, short string interludes in "Here Comes All The People" and horns in "Goodnight Everything". The orchestration is not lush, though, or even particularly focused. Like most of the melodies on the album, they circle restlessly and if they do settle, they rarely leave you far from where they found you. I'll point to the chromatic bass line on the last track "Too Much, Too Much", which is pulled almost directly from Wire's "Practice Makes Perfect ". Maybe they're making an obvious reference because they know on which side their bread is buttered. Maybe they don't know any better, or maybe they do and they don't care. They may as well have written the simple phrase, though, as it suits their constantly seeking style, trudging along on a treadmill in over-sized shoes.

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