Thursday, April 8, 2010

Liars- Sisterworld

Despite the great reviews it got, I've always been a bit underwhelmed by Liars's self titled album. It's not a bad album by any means, but compared toDrum's Not Dead, which had a conceptual and musical unity, flow, and pacing, it seems scattershot and unfocused. That it came out only a year afterDrum's belies its quick production, and though some of it was by far the most accessible music the band had ever made, there was also stuff like 'Leather Prowler' and 'The Dumb In Rain': dark, cacophonous counterpoints which would send those drawn in by 'Houseclouds' running in the other direction.

Sisterworld is something else entirely. It has a conceptual unity like Drum's Not Dead but lacks that masterpiece's flow and bi-polar divide between the textural, dreamier tracks and the percussion heavy, experimental stuff. Instead, Sisterworld has its own strange internal logic and sound. Opener 'Scissor' sounds like Liars compatriots TV On The Radio at first, with only vocals to drawn the listener in. Subtle orchestral instruments fade in, increasing in volume until the band kicks in at 1:41 and hey, it's a Liars song after all! The remainder of the album plays out with similar strange juxtapositions and literally sounds like nothing else I've heard before. The subtle or overt orchestral elements mix with the band's sound surprisingly well, and as a whole Sisterworld is the sort of thing that, on paper, shouldn't work.

It's a testament to how far the band have come as songwriters and arrangers of sound elements that the album actually does work. Something like the punishing drum and guitar caterwaul of 'Scarecrows On A Killer Slant' shouldn't be as weirdly catchy as it is, especially when the band is screaming "stand them in the street with a gun/and then kill them all!" Yet it sticks in your head as memorable and hooks you from first listen. Likewise, album closer 'Too Much, Too Much' somehow is able to make Disney-esque clarinet and bassoon (at least, that's what I think they are) flourishes back up the dreamy keyboards and guitar atmospheres in a sensical, enjoyable way.

If Drum's Not Dead was their drum heavy album, Sisterworld usually doesn't use them, or does in simpler ways. 'The Overachievers' reminds me of the beat to Can's 'Oh Yeah' sped up and thrown into a blender with late 80s Sonic Youth at their noisiest and most strident. 'Drip', by contrast, only resorts to a subtle percussive bit that sounds like someone tapping on the rim of a snare as a texture rather than a propulsive rhythm; meanwhile, the loops of sound and menacing vocals lend a supernatural horror vibe, with singer Angus Andrew wondering "when will I awake/from this dormant sleep/to eat" like some kind of Cthulu-esque monster, older than time itself.

Like a lot of the really fantastic and interesting indie rock coming out for the past few years, it's hard to categorize or describe what Liars accomplished onSisterworld. Like the challenging but rewarding R&B tinged experimental pop of Bitte Orca by the Dirty Projectors, you end up giving paradoxical, contradictory descriptions and praise. This album is not accessible, but if you have a predilection toward more challenging material, you'll be like me and think that 'Scarecrows On A Killer Slant' is a great single. The somehow-it-works use of orchestral elements on the album puts it in a different place from even the rest of the Liars's discography even if, for the most part, it definitely sounds like the work of the same band who made Drum's Not Dead andLiars. Taking the title literally, Sisterworld really does feel like it belongs to its own time and space removed from our own world even if it has enough similar elements to our world to make sense.

See? It's all paradoxical: Sisterworld is experimental and challenging, but weirdly catchy and memorable; the way it uses orchestral elements to mix with the band's pounding drum rhythms and heavily processed guitars and keyboards shouldn't work, but it does; it sounds quite unlike anything else out there, even from Liars, though it still retains their personality and isn't a huge departure from the previous two albums in some ways. Man, I give up. I'm just going in circles now. Here's the "too long, didn't read" version: Sisterworld is possibly the best album Liars have ever done, and one of best albums of 2010 so far.

5 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5

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