Liars have skirted the murky edges of the mainstream since their inception. Theirs is a history of esoteric subject matter and uncompromising musical leanings; check out the thirty minute closer from their debut, They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, or the ambient interlude on They Were Wrong, So We Drowned that consists of nothing more than scribbling and hinted-at Lovecraftian hellishness. The latter is befitting of an album that used witchcraft as its conceptual launchpad, an ambitious and fascinating foray into the more obscure corners of the human condition.
Each record since has been an evolution for the band in terms of musical progression, from the post-punk of their early output to their current, disco-oriented sound. What has remained consistent, sonically and thematically, is their leaning towards the darker end of the spectrum. On this, album number seven, the dehumanizing of Liars continues where 2012’s WIXIW left off. That album saw synthetic elements overshadow the organic more so than ever, particularly after their relatively straight-ahead eponymous mid-period release and the subsequent Sisterworld. Mess hammers the beats home, largely in dense, industrial style that at times references ‘80s synthpop, with Angus Andrew’s vocal bared in various guises.
The title refers to the subjectivity of the idea of what a mess is to the individual, coming back to the theme of duality explored in Drum’s Not Dead. It certainly feels like one of their more introspective albums, despite the collar-grab thud of synth and drum, with ‘I’ or ‘We’ characterising many of the narratives. It’s quite unusual then in retrospect when ‘Mask Maker’ comes on, banging right off the bat, with heavily-effected vocals nonsensically opening the album with “Take my pants off/ Use my socks/ Smell My Socks/ Eat my face off” From here to the MSTRKRFT reminiscences of ‘I’m No Gold’ and the pounding mantra-like intonations of ‘Pro Anti Anti’, everything seems to flow toward ‘Mess On A Mission’s scorching chorus and talk of séances.
‘Darkside’ then acts almost like a transition from one section of the album to the next; no real ‘tune’ to speak of but a myriad of clipped samples patched into a rolling collage. It levels out into a more ambient ‘Boyzone’, with Andrew’s suffocated vocal gradually fighting for clarity, submerging, and resurfacing again. His voice is largely unrecognisable throughout, with lyrics as difficult to decipher as those swathed in the synths of WIXIW.
Two lengthy cuts see the album out, one filled with breathy, muscular rhythms underpinned by industrial whines, another where delicate melodies flutter briefly beneath the gentle, regular current of the organ’s bellows effect as Mess winds down. ‘Can’t Hear Well’, though, is the album’s low-key triumph, as close to a ballad as Liars will ever get. Based on an organ motif, pulsing and warm under Andrew’s deep vocal, it is the most organic and human sound they’ve produced in years. Dark though. Always dark.