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Written by Chris Familton, reviewed for FasterLouder
Over their five albums Liars seem to firmly believe in Neil Young’s famous quote about mainstream success, “Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch.” Their debut firmly placed them in the post punk recycling camp of scratchy funk and dance punk stylings. Their desire to create something more challenging and obtuse sent them off in various directions over the albums that followed and now, nine years later, Liars have delivered their most concise and definitive recording.
Sisterworld sees the band straightening their sound and investing it with the best elements of their songwriting – tribal drumming, chanted vocals, industrial rhythms, hypnotic bass and no wave guitar. They set the bar incredibly high with the first single and opening track Scissor. It begins with choral harmonies but quickly explodes into a rush of crashing cymbals and thrashing distortion. The great thing is the discipline of the rhythm, this is no chaos for chaos sake but rather an invigorating take on the well worn trick of quiet/loud dynamics.
Liars main man Angus Andrew has always traded in spooky and disturbing lyrical images and nothing changes here. He sings about guns, murder, blood and death but often in an allegorical manner. Much of the time his mumbled, droning delivery clouds the words, making the mood and sense of aggression or dread that he is conjuring up as important as what he is actually saying. On Drop Dead he takes on the dark and woozy style of Josh Homme at his most spaced out while amongst the pulsing bass and glockenspiel melodies of No Barrier Fun he is a dead ringer for Beck or Mark Everett (Eels).
Liars aren’t without a sense of humour and The Overachievers is a particularly scathing commentary on LA containing gems like “I bought a house with you, we settled down with cats, there wasn’t much to do, so we just sat and watched the TV and smoked weed.” In the song Andrew takes some of the ailments of modern life and places them in the context of the plastic city where false beauty is worshipped and environmentalism has become a currency.
Among the leaner arrangements there is still room for the discordant experimentalism of Liars to be heard. On Drip the industrial drone builds an almost sickening sense of something evil about to happen. They achieve it through repetition and those layered, woozy vocals that bring to mind pagan rituals and speaking in tongues.
When they do stick to traditional form and function the results share similarities with their influences. The guitars on Drop Dead scream Interpol, Proud Evolution is krautrock remade for 2010 and the spirit of bands like Sonic Youth and Suicide are ingrained in the avantgarde soul of much of Sisterworld.
The overwhelming sense from listening to Sisterworld is one of Liars relaxing and taking a step back from pushing themselves too hard at being clever and intentionally abrasive. Those aspects of their sound are all still present but they are now integrated with the songs in a much more balanced and rewarding way. This is Liars finally delivering on their promise across a full album that sounds like a magnificent musical collision of art and noise.