Arts

Review: Liars’ WIXIW

Liars’ vocalist Angus Andrew at Neumos in Seattle, May 2010.  Photo: Kevin N. Murphy/flickr

 

BY ADAM ENOCH

Liars – WIXIW

I’ve always thought that Liars might just sound like the aural equivalent of Asperger’s syndrome. That’s not meant as a criticism by the way, in fact it’s quite the opposite – I think it’s a positive and interesting trait but Liars can be difficult to relate to; their albums are filled with secretive moods and emotions and are a constant challenge to the listener. WIXIW (a play on “wish you”), their sixth album, continues that trend.

Here, they have abandoned the creeping abrasiveness of Sisterworld, opting for a more subdued feel with gently pulsing electronics, zig-zagging synths and poly-rhythmic drums. In fact there’s barely a guitar discernible in the minimal mix. Instrumentally, it’s much less jarring than previous efforts – certainly nothing here is as aggressive or pounding as “Scarecrows on a Killer Slant” – and there’s a slightly distant feel throughout.

The magic ingredient in Liars’ sound, without doubt, is vocalist Angus Andrew and it is his work that is responsible for much of the tension here. His voice on WIXIW is, for the most part, technically unremarkable; mostly avoiding verbal acrobatics and falsetto, save the dying throes of “Brats”, but his tone is instantly recognisable. His phrasing and low-key murmurings carry a great sense of gravity and foreboding. Stretching and fracturing his lyrics through “The Exact Colour Of Doubt” and “Octagon” Andrew recreates the sense of impending doom familiar to other Liars records, albeit on a smaller scale, and his again-and-again-and-again-and-agains on highlight and first-single “No.1 Against The Rush” recall moments from another disembodied record, Suuns’ excellent, brooding, Zeroes QC.

The feel of the album is embodied by the title track “Wixiw”, held together by wiggling synth and understated tribal drums whilst carrying Andrew’s often unintelligible intonations on isolation: “Now I see it’s not enough, I wish you were here with me, I can no longer take it all, wish you would not come back to me.”

The biggest criticism of the album is perhaps its evenness – there’s a lack of stand-out tracks. That said, it’s very much more than the sum of its parts. Mood is successfully prioritised over songs, and it permeates throughout the album, making for an slightly uncomfortable listen. But that’s the point of Liars. And when the pay-off does come in the form of “Brats”, it’s as unsubtle as the rest of the album is subtle.

On WIXIW Liars are still darkly questioning, but less threatening than before. Their knack of creating detached, ominous moods, as if there’s something terrible lurking just around the corner, is still intact – only they never quite get around to revealing the cause of their agitation.

Stream WIXIW in full here (via Pitchfork).

WIXIW is released on Mute Records on 4 June 2012.

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