Monday, 31 March 2014

Album Review:Liars – MESS


Liars are a difficult band to pin down, having made a career full out of taking their music into unexpected sonic territory and left-field directions. From their dance-punk beginnings on their debut album They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top to to the noise-ridden, abstract structures that made up Drum's Not Dead or the more conventional but sinister Sisterworld, an album which threatened to erupted into untamed violence. 2012's WIXIW took uneasy ambience and possibilities of electronic instruments, sometimes coming near to Kid A's alienated and paranoid feel. The band have made a point of not staying in one place for long but there have been constants to their sound. A primitive and rough thread has remained through their music.

Electronic music has pushed guitars out of the mainstream more artists are picking up synthesizers instead. Though not such a big trend this switch has been noticeable in independent music as well. At it's worst it has lead to music that is sterile and synthetic but Liars are proving that doesn't have to be the case with the untamed sound of their aptly titled album Mess which shares something with Factory Floor or Daphni's (Caribou's Dan Snaith) immediate and unfussy dance music constructs.

Mask Maker begins with a warped voice demanding “Eat my face off” - yep, this is clearly the same Liars - and then a punch of hard electronic drums and analog arpeggios begins. Unusually for Liars the album seem to take of where there last one ended, taking the sound of Brats, the most hard-hitting cut from WIXIW, as jumping off point for this collection of feral dance music. It's a good match for the band with Angus Andrew's cold and detached vocals matched by the harsh electronic textures and 808 beats like the music you'd imagine playing in club from a William Gibson Novel.

A heavy industrial beat an techno chords drive Pro Anti Anti, a violent track that marches forward like an army of machines. Halfway through, the industrial beat slowly dissolves away to reveal an eastern sounding strings in a deceptively pretty moment for the band, but it's short-lived as the drums bring back the tracks pounding rhythm. Mess On A Mission feels like a more structured track, with a discernible, shouted chorus and its bleeping synths and artificial string swells buzzy restlessly around it's quick beat as the line 'Fact is fact and fiction's fiction' is repeated over and over as if in an attempt to blur the distinction between the two.

The low-key Can't Hear Well provides an effective respite from the noise as Andrew's voice is accompanied only by a multi-layered throbbing synthesizer line. The instrumental Darkslide take minimal clips and claps of percussion alongside synth oscillations, to a stark effect. Perpetual Village, a track swallowed under swells of feedback, and Dress Walker take the stripped back techno feel further further, with rumbling synth murmurs coating its 4/4 bass drum and a murky vocoder voice creating the uneasy darkness that Liars excel at.

There's something here that recalls the early days of techno and the futurist visions of producers like Juan Atkins. At the same time the band marked out by their individuality Mess feels like they are treading a familiar path and it may be their least adventurous album even if they do stamp their own personality on this sound. Liars are able to create their own type of dark and strange places with their music and it's always interesting to see them do it in a new musical context and at it's best Mess serves as an antidote to the meticulously produced and over-thought sheen of digital music.

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