Liars - WIXIW (Mute)
June 4, 2012
You wonder why Liars don’t move out of Los Angeles. Their muse previously inspired albums about isolation and betrayal. Now WIXIW ("wish you") explores fear, doubt and uncertainty. Yet by exploring dual opposites, this is an album of gentle warmth as much as looming dread. It may be brooding and dark in places, but the duality of emotional turmoil (the good and bad in all of us) defines WIXIW. Wonderfully paced – with a strong narrative arc – it is delicately balanced, exciting and intriguing.
Liars make another stylistic leap with their first ‘electronic’ album – not that you'd know, so deft have they been at twisting and conjuring sounds from their instruments. It is by turns dense and suffocating, then lights and ethereal. Across WIXIW, Liars push and pull us through the human condition. 'The Exact Colour of Doubt' eases you in, gently lapping at you like some near-future religious infomercial – be calm, be calm. Perversely, so unusual is this sentiment for the start of a Liars album that it leaves you uneasy. However, 'Octagon' turns track one inside out. The ethereal washes, hand claps and lightness are replaced by bass rumbles and echoes.
This initial pair acts as a microcosm of the rest of WIXIW. Lyrics switch from enticing, loving almost ("# I’ll always be your friend #") to insincere and threatening. WIXIW does not flit back and forth between these poles, though - instead it flows from mood to mood, eliding the edges through shades of ambiguity. The title track condenses this concept into one song. Playing on the pallindromatic title, its cyclical core spins and twists before slowing to a wobble and turning itself in to an inverted image of itself. The light sprinting synths are replaced with a sickly lilting bass crawl.
Angus Andrew, a near-future electronic spirit guide, takes us questing warts and all into our psyches. At times direct and confrontational, or distant and enticing. He's at home soothing us with honeyed hypnotic tones or goading us, challenging us with taunts of being no better than we were, of failed existentialism ('A Ring on Every Finger') or hinting at a kind of psychic dysmorphia ('Flood to Flood'). On 'Who is the Hunter', insectoid clicks rise out of the silence to frame a kind of fractured doo-wop, increasingly insistent claps punctuate his plaintive claims of "# only wanting more #," gentle synths vibrate around him.
'Brats' is filled a punkish exuberance ordinarily channelled through guitar and drums. Here, it is reimagined as a foot-shuffling, dancefloor shamanism. The flagship track for the electronic sound is 'No.1 Against the Rush' - different to anything in their back catalogue, yet is utterly them. A minimally basic drum pattern anchors it while rippling electronics rise and fall around us. The chorus perfectly typifies the greyness of ambiguity ("# I want you, I want you… #") delivered with quietly murderous intent, and insistence, as much as any passion or yearning. Whether it is the swampy electro-cultism of 'A Ring on Every Finger', the Found Sound audio collages of 'Ill Valley Prodigies', or the thick ethereal smog of 'His and Mine', Liars are inimitable.
'Annual Moon Awards' is the familiar lightness that often ends a Liars album, reminiscent of Drum’s Not Dead and Sisterworld – a synthesis of the older more ‘human’ music they made – the salvation of love. Lots of people have compared this album to Radiohead, and in terms of audio palette there are a few ‘similar’ sounds, but this is not a shared aesthetic at all. What is similar is the restless creativity, the willingness to metamorphose. Where Radiohead are the unenthusiastic harbingers of ill societal future omens, Liars are the unhinged shamans – holding up the mirror to ugly human nature.
words: Simon Garner
Liars play XOYO in London on Tuesday, June 12 and The Ruby Lounge in Manchester on Friday, June 15.