Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Album Review: Liars - Mess

Rating: Grrrr

Over six albums, Liars only consistency has been their inconsistency in approach. Starting off their career with the brutal dance punk of They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top and taking the monstrous left turn with the conceptual art rock of They We Wrong, So We Drowned, it was immediately apparent that you could never actually know what the band was thinking or going to do. While there have been attempts at more conventional song writing, 2007's Liars comes to mind, the band seems to thrive more when they are pushing boundaries. From the haunting almost tribal drone of Drum's Not Dead to the icy synth explorations on their last record WIXIW, these boundary pushing releases always make me eagerly anticipate any new music from these sonic artists. With their seventh album Mess, the band takes the experimentation of WIXIW and turns it on its head. Where WIXIW was almost contemplative, Mess is a full on attack, beating you senseless with an onslaught of harsh electronic beats and corrosive synths, with few moments of stark clarity and beauty. It refuses to be an easy listen, but is still captivating in its own twisted way.

The band wastes no time throwing out the one/two punch of "Mask Maker" and "Vox Tuned D.E.D.," two the band's dancier tracks with still enough edge. "Mask Maker" takes singer Angus Andrew's voice and cuts and pastes it with sinister abandon, having him shout out "eat my face off," "take my pants off," and "use my socks" while the music swirls and blasts against the throbbing beats.

"Vox Tuned D.E.D." takes those chilly strains and makes it more full bodied and ominous, pushing bass bursts and dramatic synth string swells to orgiastic heights.

Liars clearly relish their new found sonic acumen with their sequencers and samplers seemingly headed pell mell to the brink of chaos. The onslaught is almost too much to bear at times, with intense tracks like the proto-industrial "I'm No Gold," kaleidoscopic whirlwind and first single "Mess On A Mission,"

and furious rush of "Pro Anti Anti."

Of course, aside from these driving tracks, this wouldn't be a Liars album without some detours into the sinister and strange. There are several tracks on Mess that seep into your skin like a slow-acting poison. The back half of the record triptych of "Darkslide," "Boyzone," and "Dress Walker" takes things to the extreme at times, and almost threaten to derail the record. Not that these tracks are in any way inferior, they just happen to be paced such that the gloom becomes almost overpowering. However, Liars are not one to make things too monochromatic, and there are a few moments of hope and light that seep through. The album is broken up mid-point by the analog oscillations of "Can't Hear Well," which finds Andrews' voice at its most haunting and moving. While the two tracks that close out the record are more muted, focusing more on atmosphere than attack. The almost 9+ minutes of "Perpetual Village" is a buzzy, slow building track that echoes the millennial dread of the best of Massive Attack, while final track "Left Speaker Blown," while still hovering in darkness, is one of Liars' most gorgeous and intense beatless ventures.

Mess is Liars through and through. They are never going to release a record for the masses, choosing to wind their way down their own path. They don't like to stay in one place long, and as they now feel confident with their ability to craft heady electronic music, I have no doubt their next adventure will find them going in a completely different direction. Mess is classic Liars and a worthy addition to their increasing canon.

Rating Scale:

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

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