Review: Liars’ WIXIW

Liars: WIXIW (Mute, 6/5/12)

“No. 1 Against the Rush”

[audio:|titles=Liars: “No. 1 Against the Rush”]

Once you pair an image to a sound, it’s difficult to scrub away. Like having an actor’s face thrust onto a character from a beloved book, a music video can forever alter a song, and so anyone who saw the Todd Cole-directed video for Liars’ “No. 1 Against the Rush” will always associate its sparse beats and drugged-up synths with the midnight vistas of a derelict city, sprawlscapes illuminated only by the headlights of an unmarked van.

WIXIW, the band’s unpronounceable new release, is unsettling. It’s not really in your face, and not at all heavy, but in the dance noir that Angus Andrew, Aaron Hemphill, and Julian Gross explore here, there’s a darkness that feels confined — not the night sky above a desert highway, but one obscured by the light pollution of a strung-out city.

When a band trades in more traditional instruments for electronics, there always will be opposition from stubborn fans, but the differences between Sisterworld and WIXIW are mainly cosmetic. Andrew’s slurred vocals haven’t gone anywhere, and neither have the trio’s atypical song structures. The band’s general aesthetic is as moody and macabre as ever.

In some ways, WIXIW is to Liars what King of Limbs was to Radiohead: an album that opens the door to a new sound while making it clear that we’re still exploring the same house. If the record is deficient in any way, it’s in the wholly absent loud/soft dynamic — a failure too of King of Limbs. There aren’t any identifiable landmarks. If someone dropped you into the middle of the record, you’d have no idea where you were. But then, that may be the point. Like a predator in an unmarked van, Liars may have us right where it wants us.

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