It’s ironic that, in the year when critics finally realize how lame the Arcade Fire is, Liars have made what within their catalogue most resembles, by far, an album of that very band.
Like their trusty competitors from north up the coast The New Pornographers, the Liars are at this time facing the challenge of a departed contributor, in the latter’s case Aaron Hemphill, who… um… apparently did SOMETHING in Liars, though I have yet to learn what that something was in that last 20-odd pages I’ve clicked on.
Well, anyway, the band (which I’ve heard now is essentially just Andrew) had already turned electro, which yes in music is like robots invading the work force, so who knows if perhaps it weren’t for the best in a way for Hemphill to fly the coop. Whatever the reason, the extant Andrew, while certainly melancholy, is anything but artistically fettered and TFCF (which according to Drowned in Sound stands for “theme from crying fountain”) is a masterpiece in a totally unique way within this band’s own scope.
To be honest, though, I skipped over track one “The Grand Delusional,” a boring, torpid ballad which just happens to be arguably hogging up the best title on the album. But then, this sense of balance is something Angus Andrew has for a long time mastered and it’s here at work many places, such as the “Cliche Suite,” whose fuzzy, ephemeral texture and sense of genre multiplicity gives way to an almost defiantly conventional phrasing. “No Help Pamphlet” is a disarmingly beautiful Paul McCartney approximation — easily the poppiest thing Liars have done to date, with every bit the melancholy required for such a diversion.
It’s funny, just sarcastically I was thinking to myself before this album came out, “Gee, I wonder if it’ll be UNCOMFORTABLE.” Ironically, then, apropos of how earlier I mentioned that it’s like the Arcade Fire, “Face to Face with My Face” marks the first actual true INSTANCE of discomfort (unless you count that useless opener, of course). The band’s signature repetitive, tribal-sounding drums are back, here, and the difference from say one of the more mellow tunes on Liars (2007) and this one is sort of scant, but nonetheless the result is hypnotic.
“Emblems of Another Story” comes in eerily, marking the second time here the band has called to my mind Kid A/Amnesiac-era Radiohead (the first time for their stupidly simple Fruit Kick sounds on the excellent, bouncy and aquiline “Staring at Zero”), here because it sounds exactly like the drone session “Treefingers” (which is really a pretty common tactic in indie rock, for better or worse) — the down segment though does give way to some rhythm and some more characteristic Andrew groaning, which somehow always comes off so genuine that it gives the impression of absorbing, rather than giving off. He is, in other words, a magnetic frontman, so to speak.
For all the “woes” being explicated on this album, literally, the whole thing could threaten to dissolve into the ennui of the emotionally monochromatic. Enter “No Tree No Branch,” an epically happy, gleeful centerpiece (and if you’ve never heard Angus Andrew happy… never mind I already know you haven’t… but it’s great). He keeps repeating “If you listen you will hear that sound right there in my mind / Tonight”, which is sort of nonsensical as it obviously won’t be the particular “tonight” when you hear him sing thusly, but the result again is anthemic, not obtuse. In the back is a high-pitched string instrument which I believe is a ukulele — another welcome addition to this very eclectic project.
“Cred Woes,” after the gentler “No Tree No Branch,” rocks out with a vengeance, but, as is often Andrews’ wont, does more with less — he doesn’t even have to crank up the volume to come across as fearsome, although sometimes he does the former anyway. It’s got an amazing chant-along session in midway, where Andrew strays from melody of the chorus (“I push down all my terrible thoughts inside”) to issue a missive from fictional (but not unimaginable) minimum-wage American misery: “I like to say that I feel alive / And that I live my life as if tomorrow’ll never come”. Now, the best thing about this little diatribe, or one good thing about it anyway, is the refreshing knack Andrew has for never sounding like he’s repeating cliched phrases (something you’d expect from this master of “cliche suite”’s, for that matter) — for instance, he doesn’t just say “I live like there’s no tomorrow” and thereby just regurgitate The Offspring. This stuff is all totally his own.
“Ripe Ripe Rot” then marks the THIRD instance of them reminding me of early-‘00s ‘head, this time with those bizarre vocal effects from “Like Spinning Plates” (which are actually blessedly absent from the excellent piano-swathed live version) and… I think I like Andrew’s use a little better. But I’m really not trying to suck up. I’m really not.