When I caught Liars at the 2006 Pitchfork Music Festival, I truly felt, as vocalist/guitarist Angus Andrew so rightly put it, caught up in “World War III.” Witnessing Drum’s Not Dead live tore me up physically (hottest, loudest fucking set I’ve ever experienced) and left me awestruck by the biting primacy of the drums -- those lovely, lovely drums. I felt like Alex Delarge from A Clockwork Orange, screaming in violent joy as Ludwig Van Andrew conducted his masterful trio of percussionists through a set heavy enough to make Lightning Bolt seem like elevator music.
For me, this vicious ecstasy solidified Liars’ reputation as something much more than a first-rate art punk band. They created a concept with not only pop sensibility to appeal to the general indie rock audience, but also with enough introspection and sonic complexity to offer new thematic perspectives with each listen. It's a delicate balance for any like-minded group, but Liars handled it with little fault.
It is therefore regrettable to hear Andrew explain that the band’s latest release is a “pop” album. While Drum’s Not Dead was among my favorite albums of 2006, this self-titled “pop” effort is nowhere near its caliber. It’s understandable that the band has decided to do away with another concept album, but it's difficult to appreciate the inclusion of tracks like "Houseclouds," which sounds like it'd fit more appropriately on a Beck mixtape sold in Starbucks. “Protection” also falls under this category –- definitely passable for another artist, but not for a band that used to start wars for fun.
There are indeed remnants of the approach found on Drum’s Not Dead, but even these segments are sullied by less-than-satisfying guitar sounds and awkwardly mixed vocals. “What Would They Know,” for example, sounds like a rough draft of “A Visit From Drum,” while “Leather Prowler,” a track with all the right ingredients, is essentially a misfit on this outing. In fact, despite my bewilderment of a track like “Houseclouds,” packing the album with similar songs would perhaps be less insulting than these dumbed-down permutations of their past works.
To put it tersely, if you couldn’t handle the band’s recent work because it was “too experimental” or “too conceptual,” Liars may be the album for you. But it's not for me. As much as I hate to admit it, the lack of a unifying theme on this particular album leaves their past influences far downstream and without a paddle.