“It’s time we woke these dumb fucks up.”
Such is the sentiment behind the haunting “Sailing to Byzantium” on Liars’ new self-titled effort. Hearing it, you feel deceived – wasn’t this a band pigeonholed as the next great art-rock group? There’s a divergence on the track that would have been unthinkable on Liars’ earlier two releases, given their seemingly narrowing musical scope. It’s tough when you find your assumptions to be false. But Liars has shed its previous musical skin in favor of rock music’s staples: monolithic song writing, catchy hooks and warm melodies.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Following their 2006 masterpiece Drum’s Not Dead, Liars had a decision to make: continue along the path that made the album so successful, attempting to recreate the sonic unity on Drum, or further the group’s trend of constant reinvention. Most fans would have found the former to be the suitable and obviously safer choice, but Liars smartly chose to change – a virtual infidelity they can’t be held accountable for.
From Liars’ lead single and opener “Plaster Casts of Everything,” the band’s new direction is clear. Riding incessant, pounding percussion and punk guitars – harping back to their debut They Threw Us All In a Trench and Stuck a Monument On Top – Angus Andrew cries in a shrill falsetto, “I wanna run away, I wanna run away.” Instantly separating Liars from earlier material, the group seems more passionate, vulnerable and open. Liars is what the New York trio is at their core – this is the importance of a self-titled album.
As Liars stands as a reflection of the band as a whole, the guys are required to morph and mold throughout the disc. “Leather Prowler” recalls the disorienting, distorted drum circles of Drum’s Not Dead while tracks like “Houseclouds” (boasting electronic melodies and keyboard flashes) and “Freak Out” (the surf classic “Wipeout” on steroids) take the group in a direction it’s never experienced.
But the true heart of Liars lies in the aforementioned “Sailing to Byzantium.” Carried by breezy keyboard drones and the equivalent of rhythmic hail, the track simultaneously warms and sends chills down your spine. Andrew’s possessed lines create an ethereal platform for the phasing guitar flares and upbeat drum lines. It’s a song so disturbingly beautiful and captivating it assures all those in doubt that Liars have forever found their calling. But if their history is any indication, “Sailing to Byzantium” is simply a building block for another yet unimagined incarnation.
There’s only one real complaint, however oxymoronic, against Liars: It’s not Drum’s Not Dead. As an album near perfection, Drum was too overwhelming and inspiring to be left as it was. It needed a proper sequel, an accompanying album of similar tracks to compliment its undeniable genius. Liars should be that album but isn’t. But it’s something far greater than Drum 2.0 ever could’ve been.
As the album closes with “Protection,” Andrew tells of childhood stories. “Do you remember when we’d go on out for lifeguards / Snuck into the caves where / All the kids were smuggled.” He later comforts, “Darkness falls away,” placing the group in plain sight, though you can only assume they’ll be heading for higher ground on their next release.
Maybe they are Liars. But they are for our own good.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars