Liars have worn their negation through like radioactive stocking made of kelp and spiderweb. The refinement that’s supposed to come with a decade-plus as a band with a recognizable sound eludes these guys. Unless the refinement in this case pertains to limitation. As head-noddingly voidal and sexy pre-party anemic as their music continues to be on Mess, Liars continue to restrict themselves to a strict diet of melodic uniformity. Angus Andrew is either saying something important about despondency and aging and vitality and cynicism or just wearing these things and/or their signifiers like so many confounding accoutrements. It’s hard to tell anymore. It’s like they’ve OD’d on cool and are on their way to becoming fashion-shoot background music rehab drones. It’s not a good feeling. Maybe the early aughts weren’t built for nostalgia. Like the roots of everything grew up instead of down and flail about blindly to affix to anyone with a memorable associated life experience for continued growth.
The development of Liars is not uninteresting, but their erratic oeuvre betrays a sort of pose. With each album, they’ve managed to sound more and more like a band that values interesting textures and slamming rhythms over songwriting. This would be okay if said textures/rhythms actually took on a life of their own, but too frequently, anything compelling-sounding in a Liars song winds up being in service of a predictable, plaintive, or dirge-like vocal progression. You can always figure out where a tune is going. Sure, it’s still probably fun to get messed up and dance to, but that’s true of a lot of considerably less interesting bands of this sort. The more I pore over their discography, the less inclined I am to call their work experimental. It’s really just some fidgety electropunk, caught up with drab attempts at pop music (see the irksome “Facts are facts and fiction’s fiction” repetitive vocal hook on current single “Mess on A Mission”).
If only there were more instrumentally-driven songs like “Darkslide” or the opening track to prevent this keening sourness from settling in. Andrew’s despondent, too-tired-to-die vocals have become a smear of Russian dressing atop the delectable home-made vinaigrette-topped salad that is their synth/drum-machine arrangements. They used to sound dangerous with that voice, righteously demanding that everyone “Do something magical or disappear!” — now he sounds like he’s trying to affect the persona of some kinda lanky, despondent warlock. It sounds tentative and all too self-aware. Liars, who once wrote throbbing music from the impossibly labyrinthian basement club where a grisly murder just took place, are now more suited to what’s on the comp speakers when the FBI busts down the door of the Hot Pockets-scarfing hacker’s bedroom. It’s plastic where once it was elemental with bones and blood silt. On the one hand, they sound like they’ve kept apace with musical trends and integrated them accordingly; on the other, it sounds like they’ve got some cool new toys but not a lot of new ideas.
Despite a one-two long-song punch at the end, there is nothing all that different or more essential than what’s come before it (though closer “Left Speaker Blown” is especially lovely in its shimmering ambient drift — a definite highlight). Maybe it’s unfair for me to expect more of them. As usual, they grab your attention at the onset (“Take my face off, smell my face, eat my face off, gimme your face,” a slowed-down voice demands amid eerie John Carpenter drones). But as the minutes accumulate, it can get a bit tiresome listening to groggy, stylish pop music artfully drag itself out of bed for some Dadaist sloganeering. Andrew gesticulated with mocking/ardent glee when the solo part burst in on “Never Tear Us Apart” during Beck’s Record Club session for Kick. It seems to me if Liars are happy with pop, they should not demur and start embracing something a little closer to the earnest emotion of that solo. As Sun Kil Moon have proven this year, there’s more than enough mess to be made in this territory. Or whatever. Maybe just kill the mopey robot and let things tangle up more. Either way, their meh generation, “shouting lager lager” take on four-on-the-floor energy is starting to wear a bit thin.