years and down through time, one has tried and failed miserably to pinpoint
what exactly it is that the modern pop music ensemble Liars is all about.
One must take solace, however, in the very fact of said band's name, which
infers that this arcanely noisy yet eminently rocking combo from the git-go
had no intention of letting on re the whys and wherefores of their Musical
Art Concept. The band's relatively (stressing relatively) more straightforward
and thrashing new album, Liars (Mute), somewhat addresses this
obscurity-of-intent issue. But in fact, and indeed, since its inception the
group has had mere mild flirtations with clue-giving about all the really
big, heady theoretical stuff, 'cause they weren't too sure about it,
"To be honest," says singer-guitarist Angus
Andrew, furrowing sincerely his Australian brow, "when Aaron [Hemphill, on
percussion, guitar and synth) and I started making music together and
writing songs, our biggest goal was to hear it on a record –– we were just excited
by the idea of making music that we could actually play back to ourselves.
We were a bit shocked that people did
listen to it; that made us stop everything we were doing and think a lot
more about it."
We should stop here briefly and point out
that Angus and Aaron titled their debut album They Threw Us All in a
Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top (Blast
First/Mute), on which the pair plus a couple of dudes from Nebraska played
what they regarded as just plain good music like they'd enjoying hearing on
the radio, but which was, in retrospect and right on up to this very day,
an acutely weird collection of ambiguously clanking buzzing whirring and
howling sounds propped up and spilling over attention-deficitedly by a
veritable heaping treasure chest of ferociously feral funky-punky teenbeat
and assorted electro offal.
Though the Concept hadn't perhaps quite yet
congealed, nevertheless the Liars were simply loaded with ideas, and, more
importantly, through all the joyously mayhemic cacophony could consistently
be heard...hummable li'l pop tunes.
Yes, they were, almost in spite of themselves, strangely catchy, thus
immediately swooped down upon by a big bag called Punk Disco or even,
heh-heh, Electroclash, and paraded before huge sweaty throngs on tours with
the likes of Sonic Youth.
But the band themselves saw the limitations
of being gifted with great toppling stacks of fresh ideas being given
inadequate time for deepening development. It would, they thought, give
their stuff a limited shelf-life, something like that.
"We were part of what happened in New York
at that point and it seemed very lucky to be grouped in with those people,"
says Angus. "Obviously when we made our first record, it was full of
dancey-punky beats and stuff –– that was just what we were into, and I don't
think we realized that that was gonna become a more generic thing. It was
really annoying being told that it was like Gang of Four or whatever."
Angus and L.A. native Aaron proceeded then
to make a concerted effort to come up with something more "original."
(That's Angus' term, though thinking about it now it'd be hard to find any
debut album more heavily reeking of originality than the above-mentioned Trench.)
In the wake of all the popular and critical
high-fiving that Trench had
inspired, the pair, who'd met while attending CalArts ostensibly to study
visual arts but spending most of their time writing songs together, sought
to extend and even slightly clarify their concept. They replaced their
Nebraskan rhythm section with another L.A. buddy named Julian Gross, and
shortly thereafter did what any seriously career-oriented rockbiz hopefuls
would do, that is to say, hole up in a cabin in the New Jersey woods to record
a concept album about witches called They Were Wrong, So We
While an undercurrent of minimalism ą la
Tony Conrad and La Monte Young, or the Krautrock model of
or Neu, had long prevailed in
everything Liars set out to do, They Were Wrong proved that a minimalist mindset –– "less of a
theoretical approach than a practical one," says Angus –– can produce
startling, maximal effects. A disorientingly epic and profoundly
metaphorical look at the legends surrounding Walpurgisnacht (the night in German folklore when witches fly
to the mountaintop to carry out rituals ensuring spring's conquest over
winter), They Were Wrong is a
simply played but densely blended electro-punk-dance miasma that fills a
goblet with thrillingly juxtaposed mélanges of musique concrŹte, industrial
clank, clattering din and great, dark slabs of menacing quiet, whisped through ghostly sea shanteys...With its
deceptively basic fairytale woven through the songs, the album adds up to a
memorably, chillingly atmospheric work, far from a wild jumble of disparate
electronic and rock musical strands.
"We felt it was really important to make an
album that was cohesive and had songs that were relevant to each other,"
says Angus. "We began to look at the narrative, and how the songs could be
used in a way that without one of them it'd seem like there was a hole in
the plot. With that sort of basis in mind, we started to make music but
kept our eyes open for what was gonna be the thing that held this all
fairytale of witches and attendant folklore had its inherent humorous
aspect, of course, not least the idea of anyone bothering to deal with such
matters in this hard-edgedly ironic day and age; though with the humor
built into that sort of folklore comes the darker side of the coin –– you
know, women being burned at the stake and etc. Knowing of their interest in
such duality is perhaps the key to unlocking the mystery of Liars.
activity in the Liars camp has included the band's move to Berlin, where in
2006 they recorded another concept album, the bewitchingly obscure Drum's
Not Dead, in an old radio broadcast
studio whose rich acoustical varieties allowed them to further explore the
outermost expanses of timbre and texture in the scarily evocative "story"
of two opposed energies, Drum and Mt. Heart Attack. The term story must be used advisedly here, as anyone would be
hard-pressed to pinpoint what the story's all about; it's quite a
Berlin's thriving electronic scene might've
rubbed off a bit on Angus and the boys, but, he says, "everyone was using
drum machines and programmed beats and stuff, and I started to really yearn
to see a band that had a live drummer in it." Though Liars had long
resisted the idea of conventional rhythm sections, that yearnng for a
return to rocking basics, and perhaps not so much thinking about big grand
schemes –– and, uh, well, rocking out! –– brings us to the brand-new Liars album, where the band has brought it all back
home in a blistering set of garage mess cum total visceral catharsis.
boasts its fair share of intensely hairy riffrocking splendors, like the
opening buzz cut of "Plaster Casts of Everything" or the shaggy Black-Doggy
wonders of "Cycle Time." Apparently, the time had come for our art-rocking
experimentalists to turn off their brains and immerse in that obscure
concept called "having fun."
"The realization that we could actually make
a song like 'Cycle Time,' that's really all it is," says Angus, laughing.
"I don't think we'd ever tried anything that was so straightforward and
direct –– most of the time we're looking to sabotage anything that's a good
"Sailing to Byzantium," on the other hand,
is a brooding and baroquely layered piece featuring a falsetto-mode Angus
in a slow, stately, mysterious journey beyond –– what? Aw, this band can
never get through anything straight. Again and again the "good old rock"
gets warped and wrangled in oblique Joe Meeky angles, this dub-style morass
of gnarly spring-reverbed hash: sound/mood/meaning, much like the
intoxicating charm of that technically crappy but completely sincere and
organically bizarre band in that mid-'60s film –– you know the one –– where
the real cool spy stumbles into the druggy party and all the hipsters snap
their fingers to the weirdness...
All in a day's work for Liars, who've made a
career of defying expectations, not least their own. "Yeah," laughs Angus,
"obviously the minimalism we were talking about has been thrown out the