Liars’ debut album, They Threw Us All in a Trench and
Stuck a Monument on Top, proved a number of things: They were
difficult, weird even; They were clever — check the album
title, and a number of the equally witty song names — and
they punctuate correctly. They were also ridiculously talented,
mixing drum-machine beats with rhythmic guitar cuts, guttural bass
explosions and rotten, dilapidated drumming. Frontman Angus Andrews
ran atonal, spastic poetry over the whole mess, which was somehow,
after 10 or 12 listens, very danceable. But forget all that. If
They Threw Us proved one thing, it’s that Liars are
just the sort of band to float a rumor concerning a concept album
about witches. More than that, it proved they’re just the
sort of band to make that album.
The result is the polarizing They Were Wrong, So We
Drowned and make no mistake: It is a dense, difficult album.
Many of the mainstream rock rags have lambasted it as such. In some
ways, they have a point: The album is layered to the point of
incomprehensibility. The sounds run so deep and thick that wrapping
one’s head around them is difficult, if not impossible. Gone
are the shit-kicking choruses of “Mr. You’re On Fire
Mr.” or the genius low-end rumble of “Nothing Is Ever
Lost or Can Be Lost My Science Friend.” They are replaced by
shivering dirges, eerie chanting and so much industrial scrape that
the speakers drip scrap metal.
The record isn’t without precedent, though. The harsher
works of German noisemongers Einsturzende Neubauten, and Lou Reed
offer context, if not explanation. They Were Wrong holds
some merit as an academic exercise: Liars deserves credit for
taking a chance on a record. Indie rock’s tendency to take
sonic risks is monumentally overstated, and short of anything else,
Liars have crossed that line, creating an album that is as
difficult as it is informed.
But referencing old records and waxing philosophical about
academic merit distracts from the fact that They Were Wrong
is a fascinating listen. Forget all of that stuff about witches
— it’s window dressing for the band’s aural
adventure. Instead, focus on the ghastly hymnals, the skittering
electronics and observe pulse and breath of an album that takes
sonic extremes to heart. The band lost its rhythm section after the
first album, and so it’s almost natural that They Were
Wrong abandons the band’s dance-punk lean.
Andrews’s vocal input is now a purely aural affair.
“We Fenced Other Gardens With the Bones of Our Own”
is surrounded by tribal percussion and ethereal incantations. The
“single,” “There’s Always Room on the
Broom,” is a playful romp through rusty nails and wet
floorboards. “Hold Hands and It Will Happen Anyway”
forgoes any sort of powerful rhythm, instead relying on Aaron
Hemphill to thrust bricks of guitar onto the fire. The funeral
organ on the closer, “Flow My Tears the Spider Said” is
mockingly tuneful, a whimsical swipe at listeners who finished the
Listening to They Were Wrong, it’s impossible not
to assume that Liars are being intentionally difficult. Their first
album — far from accessible — at least featured
discernible songs and moments. In contrast, They Were Wrong
presents itself as a glob of music, to be either totally consumed
or rejected. Make no mistake: It’s not a work of genius, but
to dismiss it as a “difficult” album is a mistake.
They Were Wrong is the sound of a young band challenging
themselves, their listeners, and the conventions of a stagnant
scene. They Were Wrong, So We Drowned isn’t the young
year’s best album, but it’s easily its most
interesting, challenging listen.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars