Is it possible for a band to release two career-summarizing albums when they’re only five albums into said career? Liars sure as hell think so. The themes that define Liars newest album, Sisterworld, may not be a synthesis of all of their previous lyrical ideas, but the music seemingly captures everything they have done right in the past. The abstract post-punk of their debut, 2001’s They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, mixed with the otherworldly, dread-inducing (and arguably, failed) sound experiments of 2004’s They Were Wrong, So We Drowned were expertly fused to create 2006’s masterful, monolithic Drum’s Not Dead. 2007’s Liars found the band retreating and devoting equal time to their respective past successes. The results were highly enjoyable, even if Liars didn’t attempt to forge any kind of new path. For all of the brutish energy on display, Liars was still a breather, an album where the band would coast on their reliability (such as it is) before deciding what genre-mutilating path to follow next.
So now we have Sisterworld which, while it is frequently strictly reminiscent of Drum’s Not Dead, finds the band assembling fragments of their disparate past into something new and altogether terrifying. Opener and first single “Scissor” is perhaps the finest distillation of the band’s impulses they have yet to release, where a choir of eerily calm voices is eventually pitched full-force into a blistering punk whirlwind, only to emerge even more eerily calm on the other side. Liars’ previous exercises in haunting atmospherics forced their audience to linger on the possibility of where these disturbed compositions could possibly lead. “Scissor” finds Liars making good on their threats, and it’s exhilarating.
Some might argue that the real terror of Liars’ music was the lurking threat of musical violence, rather than the actual violence itself, and therefore “Scissor” doesn’t work as well as previous successes like ‘The Wrong Coat for You Mt. Heart Attack.” I would direct those people to the remainder of Sisterworld, which is largely happy to dwell in long bouts of pitch-black distortions of song-craft. Tracks like “Here Comes All the People” and “Drip” are unconventionally structured, to put it mildly, but they are nightmarish universes unto themselves. Their lurching, almost formless nature makes the heavy, forceful noise of “Scarecrows on a Killer Slant” all the more jarring. “Proud Evolution” works by splitting the difference.
Whichever mode Liars are in, they have a knack for creating an ugly headspace. The music of Sisterworld ingratiates itself in the most perverse possible way. You can intellectualize it or dismiss it as pretentious nonsense, but the appeal is largely visceral. Lord knows repetitious drones can be insufferable, but Liars have a keen instinct for when to stop, when to completely change the established dynamic, or when to offer a song that approaches accessibility. It’s not the easiest thing to explain. At this point in Liars’ career, to call their music not for everyone would be obvious, but those of us who listen and think “this is absolutely for me” can surely agree about that being a dark realization indeed.