‘Art rock’, no other term causes my heart to sink so low or my blood to boil so high. It filters through my brain in the same manner as “I don’t watch/own a television”, “Oh, that suits you but it wouldn’t suit me” or “I’ve seen U2 13 times; they’re such an amazing live band”.
Thankfully, despite the art rock tag that has affixed itself to Liars for most of their career, they have managed to ride it out and stay fresh, challenging, relevant, nicely underexposed and palpably off-beat.
Sisterworld, the Brooklyn trio’s fifth album, is an LP designed to unnerve in a massive way, like an anal probe or the eyelid separator from A Clockwork Orange. Recorded with Tom Billier, a composer/producer who has worked on film scores Punch Drunk Love and I Heart Huckabees to name but a few, this album is, according to the band themselves, ‘a meditation on the -alternate spaces’ and -underground support systems’ people create in order to maintain identity in a city like Los Angeles’. It also intermittently features a bassoon.
So, we have a trendy composer, a ‘concept’, a bassoon and a handful of ‘art rockers’. No no, come back. It’s sublime.
-Scissor’, the first track to appear on the web in December last year, accompanied by a video (see below), is the first track here – a beautiful, string-laden gloomfest opening with the lines ‘I found her with my scissor’ that suddenly bursts into a guitar freak-out before landing again.
-No Barrier Fun’ has a wonky bass wobbling all over a violin and some propulsive drumming, with that edgy, mournful undertone persisting, whilst -Here Comes All The People’ has a kind of nightmare-ish, post-Nirvana bass line and Hitchcockian strings. -Drip’ is sublime – all brooding ambient bubblings and a percussion line that will have you running around corners in the dark, fleeing an imaginary stalker.
Ever present here is Liars’ familiar chanting and a sense of dread. -Scarecrows On A Killer Slant’, written about a shooting that took place on their doorstep during the making of Sisterworld, is a trashy, loud, post-punk jam, as is -The Overachievers’, a (somewhat ironic?) No Age-vibe, guitar-squall-and-rant about that familiar old chestnut: hating L.A. -Proud Evolution’ is another instantly memorable melody/mantra combo that lends the song a near-tangible feeling you could almost pluck out of the air in front of the speakers as it blares.
Given the potential weirdness of this album on paper, as it initially appears to oscillate wildly between fast and slow, classical and post-punk, noise and quietness, this is actually a carefully-paced and cleverly-ordered collection of tracks that grabs one within a few listens and grows steadily. Each spin will give you something new and while it is a ‘concept album’ of sorts, it has none of the pretentions or facepalm factors of its brethren in that genre. It’s a staggering album, filled with plenty of contrasting sounds and brooding themes and will probably prove divisive amongst Liars fans and non-Liars fans alike. It probably won’t be huge. It really should be.