When Liars boldly left the well-beaten path of their dance-funk post-punk revival origins three years ago and wandered into the wilderness in search of inspiration, they embarked upon a harsh journey that left quite a few people stinging. The announcement that their sophomore album would be in the vein of Sonic Youth’s tempestuous Bad Moon Rising indicated that complacency was not an option. Instead, they’d offer their hipster-heavy following a slab of vicious experimentation meant to separate the bandwagon jumpers from the dedicated devotees, perhaps the most direct and scornful assault on a fan base since Black Flag’s The Process of Weeding Out EP. Sure enough, They Were Wrong So We Drowned accomplished its goal, signaling that Liars were more than just a pretty face in a buzz-heavy scene. The failing grades earned in fading publications like Rolling Stone and Spin only proved they were getting it right. Those who enjoyed the sting and followed the band into the wilderness have been witness to one of the most impressive and invigorating evolutions in contemporary music.
Now it’s time for Liars to come out of the wilderness, and with them they bring that legion of rabid followers and a new album that will surely launch them into the stratospheric fame they seemed poised to grasp way back when. Only this time it’ll be on their own terms, and with a greater sense of their capabilities, which have only sharpened during their flirtations with broken witches and a pilgrimage up Mt. Heart Attack. What lies on the other side is Liars, a self-titled statement of purpose that incorporates the experimental lessons learned into an outstanding collection of short, tuneful songs ready for mass attention. Each track bears the sound of a confident, secure band of artists who now know they are ready for prime-time, and can weather the onslaught of attention without compromise.
At first listen, Liars simply rocks, in a way that the band hasn’t attempted to rock since the slinky, full-frontal assaults of They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top. That’s not to say the album is regressive in any way. Nothing on Liars sounds remotely close to those early songs. What’s returned to the band’s demeanor is a certain amount of joy, a desire to cut loose after two challenging and introspective albums, to prove that they’re capable of writing smart pop songs. From the moment “Plaster Casts of Everything” ignites the album with its pleading “I wanna run away! / I wanna bring you too!”, the hooks are digging in, seizing attention with relentless spirit and energy.
The bratty spasms of noise and obfuscation aren’t entirely gone. “Leather Prowler” is a dark, echo-laden moan from the bottom of a well that would have fit in with the creepy material on their second album. It rumbles raggedly, a welcome descent into deviance amidst some relatively crisp songs. Still, Liars is definitely a turn for brighter territories, with tracks like “Pure Unevil” referencing the Jesus and Mary Chain with its overdriven guitars and drowsy vocals, and “Cycle Time” drawing from the psych-rock of their friends and frequent collaborators Onieda. “Houseclouds” is the album’s biggest surprise, a mid-tempo track that shimmers with electronic flourishes and drum loops (not entirely unlike their Mute labelmates Mountaineers). It’s clear that Liars are determined to continue to expand and elaborate on their sound, even as they pare down into tighter songs and arrangements.
There’s something to be learned from the long and patient development that Liars have gone through since their debut. It’s more than obvious that music, especially indie rock, has been transformed by the speed and breadth of the Internet. A band playing their first show in New York City can have thousands of fans all across the country the very next day, provided a blogger is in attendance or their promo CD finds its way into the hands of someone at an online publication. The potential for instant celebrity can be beneficial for small bands, but by reaching a mass audience so quickly, and enduring a deluge of hype and attention faster than was ever possible before, there’s a risk of harvesting the crop before it’s had a chance to grow.
There are certainly some contemporaries of Liars who were plucked a bit too early, and while they enjoyed some momentary fame, never really learned what it takes to have staying power, or what their band should even be — they became crystallized at the moment of their discovery, instead of developing into a living, growing organism that can persist out of the limelight. Liars seem to have understood this potential pitfall; by casting off their initial successes and seeking their own path, they managed to construct a stronger, more powerful group that has turned them into an indelible presence, and one of the best bands in rock today.