In a music scene that paradoxically values both authenticity and nostalgia, a band such as Liars seem- at first- to be welcome voices of dissent. Across three albums the New York trio have confounded expectations and delivered soundscapes that exist on an entirely different plain of invention to that of most of their peers- who are a pretty dismal bunch anyway. At least, that’s what it seems like on the surface. Because if the band’s name is appropriate on any level, it is the fact that their music pretends to be wildly original but is in fact tiresomely juvenile and as much in step to their musical forebears as any other band currently reheating New Wave or Post-Punk.
From the opening track (‘Plaster Casts of Everything’) to the closer (‘Protection’) there seems to be a conscious rejection of conventional song structure, playing styles and the way the sound is arranged. Angus Andrew’s vocals have a chant-like quality that seems both to envelope the songs and to sit underneath them, like some kind of intangible entity- perfectly suiting the mystical implication of the song titles. I would say lyrics, but they’re impossible to make out, and this is one of the main problems with the album. Being experimental is all very well and good, but if no allowances are made for the listener then the experience can be joyless. That is very much the case here. As unconventional as it at first seems, the songs tend to blur into one long droning, repetitive assault on the ears. And when the possibility of entering the world of the musicians is denied, then there is no option but to pick holes in the rest of the album. And there are many.
For today, this is an experimental work, but had it been released twenty five years ago this would probably have been seen as minor in comparison to, say, Public Image Ltd. This is as much a commentary on the lack of creativity in the 2000s as it is on the band’s experimental pretensions. The suspicion is that because they’ve rejected all the usual signifiers in contemporary pop music, the band hopes they will be viewed as pioneering musical geniuses. Actually, more than anything, they come across as clueless inepts. If you’ve ever got drunk with some mates and started pissing about with musical instruments then you would be on about the same level of musical genius. The thing is, no-one would ever want to hear the results of the piss-up. And likewise, it’s hard to work out who would want to hear this album; the only people who will genuinely love it are the band themselves.
For the last couple of years they’ve been getting progressively sillier and working themselves into a comfortable little rut which protects them from any major criticism. Rolling Stones’ granting of one star to Drum’s Not Dead aside, it’s scandalous that 45 minutes of music as useless as this is given such an easy ride. It shouldn’t be let off because it’s experimental; it blatantly isn’t. It shouldn’t be given a free pass because it’s original; and it shouldn’t be praised just because it rejects the admittedly tired tropes that most of their contemporaries heedlessly incorporate into their music. If Liars had bothered to make the album a cohesive, interesting, engaging exploration of musical possibilities then some of the other failings that plague it would be admissible. But it isn’t. All it is is another stage in the band’s journey into total obscurity.