Liars - Sisterworld

by Rich Morris Rating:7 Release Date:2010-03-08

Menace. Malevolence. Madness. A sense of evil. Call it what you will, this dark heart has always been something rock music thrived on. Mostly, this manifested itself as mere playacting, as on The Rolling Stones' satanic hymn 'Sympathy for the Devil' or the camp insurrectionist villainy of The Sex Pistols' 'Anarchy in the UK'. Occasionally, at Altamont for instance, or in the case of the Manson family murders, this darkness was real and grew out of the unchecked ferment of pop culture. You could be forgiven for wondering when that element of danger drained out of rock and wishing we could locate it once more. Obviously, no one wants another Altamont or Charles Manson, and, sure, there's glorious strangeness around if you want to access it. Right now, it's there in the psychedelic, nostalgia-drenched world of Animal Collective and their chill-wave counterparts. But lovely as this music may be, it feels rather bloodless, not so much a trip through the doors of perception as a peak through a rose-tinted window. Listening to Merriweather Post Pavilion, you don't get the thrilling sense of discovering a crack along the fault-line of sanity, the way you might with The Stooges or Syd Barrett, with Joy Division, Throbbing Gristle or Krautrock bands like Can and Faust. Nowadays, it seems if we want darkness, we look to the exaggerated pantomime metal of acts like Slipknot; if we want arty obtuseness we go to experimental electronic acts like The Knife. Where in the current pantheon of rock can we look for something to inspire that queasy, crazy feeling?

"I dragged her body to the parking lot/ I tried to find her a saviour out there among the cars" croaks Angus Andrew like a broken down wino on 'Scissor', the first track of Liar's fifth album Sisterworld. As the mist-shrouded lullaby erupts into piercing, lysergically deranged noise, you know you're once more in the company of the real deal. Liars have always excelled at the dark stuff; offering, over the course of four albums, a trip further and further from the bounds of normal society into a wilderness of witches, vagrants and madmen. If Sisterworld never quite ascends to the unhinged heights of their second album They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, a concept album about witch trials in Germany, then you can rest assured you're still set to accompanying the band for a walk on the wild side.

Following the spellbinding 'Scissor', the murder ballad vibe continues on 'No Barrier Fun', a clattering Southern waltz powered forward by an undulating synth noise which shifts like quicksand under twinkling xylophone, seductive fiddle and Andrew's greasy, snake oil salesman vocals. Third track 'Here Comes All the People' is redolent of Syd Barrett, both the fractured, psychically battered folk of The Madcap Laughs and his pioneering hallucinogenic freak-outs with Pink Floyd like 'Pow R. Toc H'. A twisting slow-burner, it revolves around the ominous refrain of 'counting victims one by one'.

Obviously, horror and derangement of the senses have always been something of an enduring theme for Liars, from the howling insanity of 'There's Always Room on the Broom' from They Were Wrong… to the trance-inducing mantras of third album Drum's Not Dead. However, at certain points on Sisterworld, the band really outdoes themselves. The creeping dirge of 'Drip' begins with Andrew murmuring: 'In your bloodstream/ I am growing now'. Meanwhile, the ultra-basic garage band stomp of 'Scarecrows on a Killer Slant' seethes with barely contained violence. Sample lyric: 'Stand them in the street with a gun/ and then kill them all'. If only Charlton Heston was still alive to hear that one.

However, what comes across most on Sisterworld is a kind of numb sadness. Songs like 'Goodnight Everything' and 'I Can Still See the Outside World' sound like they're written and sung by someone mourning the loss of ties to a functioning, safe society which they long ago slipped out of their reach. Both these tracks finally degenerate into blasts of delinquent heavy rock. Another Pink Floyd comparison is apt here, but this time it is to the morose monolithic concept rock of The Wall. Final track 'Too Much, Too Much' concludes with a repeated mumble of 'I am dead'. (Probably best not to listen to that one while on acid.)

You can't help feeling that the artistic sphere Liars now inhabit must be a lonely place. Maybe someone should try and reach out to them there. Although, then they might not send us more gorgeously black communications like Sisterworld. Best leave them to it, don't you think?

Richard Morris

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