Liars, ‘WIXIW’ – Album Review
Remember that story about the emperor’s new clothes? Where these con men tailors showed up and made the king walk around naked? Those tailors might have had a hand with Liars’ new ‘WIXIW,’ a minimal rock album on the high end of cool and the low end of fun.
That is to say, even with that obnoxious album title — read aloud as “wish you,” a reference to the turbulent personal life of bandleader Angus Andrew — and the ungodly amount of Radiohead recidivism present in the first two songs, the Brooklyn, N.Y. band does for a few moments transcend their pretensions and make some rather listenable songs. Which, for a band in the business of Very Serious Rock, is refreshing.
But first we have to get past the whole Thom Yorke thing. Andrew can string along a nasal drone nearly as well as his Oxfordian hero, but the “rock band making electronic music” thing already reached its zenith with ‘Kid A.’ To a degree, the style still works. Creepy synths and fragile vocals animate album opener ‘The Exact Color of Doubt,’ and post-apocalyptic drums mix with dub basslines in the counter-intuitively catchy ‘Octagon.’ While acceptable, it’s been done before. Liars are best when doing their own thing.
That’s the case with single ‘No. 1 Against The Rush.’ It builds like a new New Order song, horizon-line synths stretching around a waterfall of electronics. Andrew sings from deep down, enriching the spare track with steadfast vocals. Though minimal and scarce, the track builds much in the way of momentum — it begs for a dance floor remix.
Liars shared New York in the 2000s with TV on the Radio, most evident in ‘A Ring on Every Finger,’ a cybernetic lurcher that bops along without reaching TV’s drama. Like their avant garde peers, Liars sometimes get lost in the Very Seriousness of it all, as evidenced by the non-productive wandering around the middle of the album. ‘Ill Valley Prodigies’ and the title track ‘WIXIW’ are both wan. The listener is left dejected and mute, the same alienation as standing before an abstract, kitsch Cy Twombly painting.
For a band that’s made a career of switching genres while maintaining an aesthetic, it’s a pity that Liars have not yet constrained themselves to the forthrightness of pop. An over-reliance on egocentric orbit results in creative atrophy, no matter how talented or esteemed the artist is. Call it old-fashioned, but hearing something pleasant from Liars would be treat.