Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Knix Pick for Best New Album: Liars Mess

Mess is dance-punk veterans Liars seventh full length album since the release of They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top in 2001. The Los Angeles based trio, consisting of Angus Andrew, Aaron Hemphill and Julian Gross, has undergone a number of paradigm shifts since their early years as an art punk band. Mess is a synthesizer album to be sure, but unlike the 2012 WIXIW, Liars first foray into heavy electronic instrumentation, they know what they're doing. Recording WIXIW (pronounced 'wish you') involved a steep learning curve and the prolonged reading of manuals, but the pay off of their prior labor was that the recording of Mess was a more spontaneous and immediate process. And most of all, the band wanted to get back to the place where making music was just plain fun.
Mess focuses on the theme of duality:  a mess as beauty to some, disaster to others; choice as possibility or consequence; look to the past or toss it out, art as a cerebral exercise or a fun pursuit. And, as Angus unambiguously declares in the track "Mess on a Mission," the concrete paradox that 'fact is fact and fiction's fiction.' The concept for the album cover art makes this duality stylistically clear with simple yarn in bold colors forming a pseudo wig. The yarn makes appearances in other images such as stuffed down a pair of tighty whities and as accessory to the band's white suits. In a well played move, Liars carries the concept to physical form by producing vinyl with string embedded into it, as well as a limited edition run of 500 vacuum-sealed 2xLP's with string stuck on them by hand. The artistry, or alternatively the mess, is in the perception of the beholder.
The album starts off with the up tempo intensity of the track 'Mask Maker." Angus Andrew's voice, masked through a voice manipulator, implores the listener to "take my pants off," "smell my socks," and "eat my face." The ploy is both innocuous and vaguely disturbing but gives the listener an early clue that Liars are as eccentric as ever. The second track is the danceable "Vox Tuned D.E.D." that has more of a darkly moody electro industrial sound. "Mess On A Mission," the album's frenetic lead single, is all quirky synths and catchy lyrics. (The official video for "Mess on a Mission" is done on a green screen and ridiculously watchable for all its simplicity.) "Pro Anti Anti" (See, even the song titles are ripe with dualism.) is Liars at their most dance worthy.
Though as much as the beginning of the album is intently up tempo, it can't really be called a dance album. The sequence of songs, according to frontman Angus Andrew, was chosen to pound the listener through the first half of the record and move to more ambient, abstract songs on the second half. Songs like "Dress Walker" and the 9 minute "Perpetual Village" have a decidedly more minimalist vibe, but there are still plenty of the experimental electronic elements that define the earlier tracks. Everything slows way down for the surprisingly beautiful "Left Speakers Blown" that concludes the album.
I think that one of the reasons I like Liars so much is that, despite their American homeland, they have the keenly idiosyncratic and detached demeanor of the Euro electro bands that I love so much. Maybe this has something to do with the art school beginnings of Andrew and Gross, or the fact that the band spent time in Berlin, having recorded their third album Drum's Not Dead there in 2004.  Germany produced the iconic Kraftwerk after all.

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