Insulation and isolation are often integral to the development and evolution of artistic projects. It could be said that the exploration of capability and the fulfillment of potential can only be fully realized when an individual or collective is free of external distraction, which is something that could be achieved, however illusory or not, through seclusion and separation. On their sixth album, WIXIW (pronounced “wish you”), it appears that Liars may have taken to this line of thinking, retreating to rather more intimate and obscure surroundings to record what would become a predominantly electronic and sampled-based stunner of an album.
The obsessively compiled multimedia album blog Amateur Gore featured a fictional recording location, along with photos and footage of provocative methodological arrangements that seemed to point to such realms of isolation. Pictures of microphones hanging above crumpled bed linen and headphones arched over pieces of fruit were all presented without explanation, perhaps as an insight into what would inevitably be a dark, solitary, and experimental recording process. Later, the band spoke openly about their experiences, claiming that WIXIW was written while they were “holed up in a small cabin in the woods.” They then apparently sought out a windowless bunker in Downtown L.A. in an attempt to explore their ideas and material somewhere “compact and remote.”
Writing and recording environments such as these have often been utilized by artists in the past. What makes Liars’ endeavor slightly different, however, is that these dark, secluded environments are also reflected aesthetically. Indeed, WIXIW is the sound of isolation, of tight spaces without direct sunlight. It opens, oddly enough, with a calm and collected track that allows the listener to breathe easily and fall into the new angles and approaches that the band has been so forthcoming about in the buildup to the album’s release. The song, “The Exact Colour of Doubt,” invites its audience to sink into placid synths and light percussion while Angus Andrew’s familiar voice comes in. But this deep, spacious calm is by no means a reflection of what’s to come, and those familiar with the band’s previous work will certainly not be expecting for that to be the case.
Isolation and confinement do not come without consequence, particularly in the art world. Examples of this can be seen in the photography of Francesca Woodman, the abstract recordings of Set Fire To Flames, the consensus building and lines of argumentation in 12 Angry Men, and the entire life story of Kasper Hauser (which was then wonderfully illustrated by Werner Herzog), to name but a few. In the case of WIXIW, the recording process has allowed Liars to engage their material in a way that enables them to both refine and nourish their songwriting. “Octagon” pulls pitter-patter beats over melodramatic echoing that then rings out over Andrew’s dreary poetry; “I knew it well,” he musters with a sense of deliberation, the album taking a darker turn before lead single “No. 1 Against the Rush” kicks in. Despite the familiarity Liars must have felt for each other and their surroundings as they recorded, the ideas that came from this experience take many different forms, from funky keyboard patches straddling the toe-tapping percussion on “A Ring on Every Finger” to the dirty dance-floor bass line of penultimate track “Brats.”
WIXIW may be light years away from the band’s 2006 groundbreaker Drum’s Not Dead, but it certainly exists in the same atmosphere. What the band has accomplished here is an exquisitely polished, well-refined album that takes the best of what Liars have achieved in the past and fastens it in a crisp electronic casing. It might not be a particularly comfortable realm for many fans to step into, but as Andrew recently proclaimed, “interesting art allows you an obvious entry point, but doesn’t necessarily give you an easy exit.”