In the ten-or-so years since Liars’ inception, the band has weathered a relentless rollercoaster of the best and worst of what the current music-critical tumult has to offer. That they’ve persisted this long at all, burdened with both lofty accolades and bitter backlash, is nothing short of a minor miracle. Retracing the ups and downs of the trio’s career arc is likely old hat by now, but in brief, the band has upended the expectations of their audience on enough occasions that they’ve garnered something of a reputation for independence.
If Sisterworld is really a concept album about L.A., then I don’t want to go. When these guys turn their eyes on a subject, one thing’s for sure, it ain’t gonna be pretty. So you know this isn’t going to sound like the Beach Boys. This is more like the David Lynch, second half of Mulholland Dr, homeless guy behind the dumpster version of the City of Angels.
Whatever or wherever Sisterworld is, it sounds like a pretty creepy place. The fifth Liars album is relentlessly tense-- not so much scary as surreal. Every track is shrouded in echo and anxiety, and often all the tension erupts into bursts of buzzing guitars or pounding beats. Not every dark cloud breaks into a thunderstorm, but it constantly feels like one is lurking around the corner.
On its last album, Liars, the band shed the convoluted mythology that had guided its previous effort, the drone masterpiece Drum’s Not Dead, in favor of an instinctual approach, contorting childhood radio rock fantasies into what sounded like a greatest hits collection from the darkest, weirdest rock ensemble ever. It was a career highpoint for a band that seemed like just another eccentric dance-punk band in 2000. For its latest, Liars has returned to the conceptual approach, exploring the gutters of America’s favorite soured paradise—Los Angeles.
While it feels rather pretentious to make the statement ‘I have always avoided LA’ (I’m from Birmingham, where opportunities for foreign travel are limited and frowned upon), the fact is that I’ve been near-ish to the City of Angels on occasion, and have passed. I’m sure there is a lot more to the place than sun and sprawl and not really being able to get around unless you can drive (not to mention that truly traumatising California tourist board ad), but I suspect these factors would all come into play on any foray I might make, and the whole thing would basically be awful and rubbish. Liars’ fifth album, Sisterworld, does very little to convince otherwise.
Maybe it’s all of the sci-fi I’ve been reading over spring break, but Sisterworld, the title for Liars’s fifth album, calls to mind some kind of parallel universe—the sort where everything we take for granted is completely inverted, yin is yang, male is female, and the L.A. rock scene celebrates inspired art-punk weirdness instead of churning out slicked-up radio filler. Truth be told, I’m not even sure if Liars could top the charts in that reality, since alienation and abrasion have always been a crucial part of their shtick.
After taking a break from concepts with their self-titled album, Liars return to themed songs with Sisterworld, an album about the alternate spaces people create to survive in Los Angeles -- and they’re just as weird, thought-provoking, scary, funny, and ambitious as ever. This is the first time the band has recorded in the U.S. since They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, working in several studios across L.A.
Transient, experimental rockers continue to reward, evolve Geography has always defined Liars. The band—which formed in Los Angeles with a menacing Australian frontman named Angus Andrew—first received attention after relocating to New York. Liars would later make an album in New Jersey that was loosely based on German witchcraft, only to actually move to Berlin for their next album.
After more than a few years of wanderlust that led to two excellent albums (Drum’s Not Dead and Liars), the members of Liars recently decamped in Los Angeles, the city where they met, to cut Sisterworld, their fifth album. For about as long as Liars has been based in Germany, Brooklyn and points beyond, L. A.
Most of Liars’ music following debut They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top seems to have deliberately, sometimes aggressively, avoided classification. This effort is both understandable and advisable. By charting its own path, the band has completely outpaced most of the bands that belonged to that manufactured “dance punk” grouping that was so heavily hyped in the first half of the last decade.
Even after such wonderful past LPs, Sisterworld is perhaps Liars’ masterpiece. Ian Wade 2010 Liars have been making music for a decade, and while they were initially seen as part of the post-Strokes malaise of bands to check out, they sit much more on the extreme side of the musical landscape – they were always more Pussy Galore and Sonic Youth than skinny-jeaned new-wave revival. 2001’s debut album, They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, set out their stall immediately, taking the dance-punk form and dissecting it into art noise.