For their 5th album, Liars finally seem to settle down and deliver a crowd-pleaser. Their first album put them on the then-burgeoning electro-clash scene in 2002, and boasted several great tracks--the first two, and "We Live NE of Compton." There was also a portent of things to come in their last track, "This Dust that Makes Mud," which goes on for thirty minutes and is pretty much one of the most boring songs of all time.
For their second album, They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, they famously eschewed the "pop hits" of their debut and delivered an apparently unlistenable concept album about witches. At the time--the first and only time I saw Liars live--that album seemed like a total snooze, though their live show contained crazy and weird energy. Seven years later the album continues to improve with practically every listen.
Their third album, Drum's Not Dead, took them away from L.A. and Brooklyn to Berlin, where one can assume they did a lot of drugs and partied a lot and created another weird concept album--but this time, a critically-acclaimed one. While Drum's Not Dead is a very unique listening experience, few can argue that it is not a beautiful album. That said it is also the least thrashy thing in their catalog.
Their 4th album is quite comparable to Sisterworld--Liars showed the band could bring their "pop hits" back, and still deliver an unsettling listening experience. Songs about running away and taking pills to end their lives and realizing that there is nothing to freak out about made them more accessible than they had ever been yet.
Enter Sisterworld--arguably not their first masterpiece, but certainly a masterpiece. By turns bombastic, hopelessly sweet and melancholy, and nihilistic, I have read and heard that Sisterworld is a concept album about L.A, and the many different landscapes and soundscapes of that city.
The most apparent difference on this album is the way they veer wildly between crazy thrash freakouts and Drum's Not Dead-esque contemplative moments. The album is nearly perfect from start to finish, but the singles stand out more than others--"Scissor," "Proud Evolution," and "The Overachievers." "Scarecrows on a Killer Slant" as well.
But to forget about "Here Comes All the People" (arguably the best song on the album--the one they spent a year perfecting), "Drip," and "I Can Still See an Outside World," would be a mistake. This album showcases both sides of the Liars, and in the perfect dosage.
Opening track "Scissor" has a fantastic video, if you haven't seen it. It's also a perfect way to open the album. The next three tracks are a bit quieter, but when you get to "Scarecrows..." you return to what is great about the Liars--their ridiculous lyrics. They are not printed, but it sounds as if Angus Andrew is saying, "Why'd you pass the bum on the street? 'Cause he bothered you!" (exclamation point obvious from listening). Then later--"Why'd you shoot the man with your gun? 'Cause he bothered you!" And then finally, the menacing end, "Stare them in the street with a gun (?), and then kill 'em all!" Liars have had many violent songs in their past, but this takes them all.
"The Overachievers" boasts similar lyrical genius. It's so simple, it's genius: "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." What is great about this band is when you realize they're actually singing that. Later: "We surfed at Malibu/so we could see the stars/and when the sun fell off (?)/we drove back slow into Topanga(?)." Then later they talk about giving up on their jobs and spending the rest of their time walking through the forest. The sentiment is too precious.
Liars seem to have set the bar very high with this album. It'd be very difficult to top. A strong contender for one of the best albums of 2010, I think it is fair to say. I expect Liars to put out another album like They Were Wrong, So We Drowned after this. Regardless of their idiosyncratic nature, with this album they solidify themselves as one of the true powerhouse bands in indie rock. Whether you can get into them or not, if you hear it, you have to admire the artistry.