From one album to the next, it becomes increasingly difficult to accurately predict which direction Liars will take, musically, conceptually or otherwise. Having started off as an abrasive post-punk band, Liars took some ambient and trippy detours with They Were Wrong So We Drowned and their masterpiece, 2006’s Drum’s Not Dead. Yet just a year later, they emerged with their self-titled effort, which was curiously their most accessible album yet. By no means averse to melody, Liars nonetheless embrace the unexpected. Because of this, charting their progression requires following a non-linear diagram, as the Los Angeles trio seems to exist in numerous dimensions, a raucous biker-rock band and an abstract art-pop phenomenon existing parallel to one another.
Taking this idea of parallel worlds to a new level, Liars actually based their fifth album Sisterworld on the idea of an alternate space, an isolated realm that exists outside their urban Southern California home. Long before they introduced any music from the album, they launched a Web site depicting a series of films of natural landscapes and atmospheric sounds. And over time, that transitioned into a series of images of the band members in the woods and on a beach. In spite of this imagery of the natural world, there was something slightly off about it, something eerie and uncertain. Regardless of the solitude the images projected, there was a clear indication Sisterworld wouldn’t be the sound of a soothing paradise.
Sisterworld is, in fact, far from any kind of aural vacation, and more of a disorienting experience through haunting drones and violent bursts of aggression. Putting it in simple terms, the album seems to combine elements from the band’s past two efforts, but to broader extremes. First single “Scissor” is a terrifying example of the odd new direction the band has taken here, starting off as an oddly understated dirge before erupting torturously into a vicious heavy metal breakdown. It’s an intense song, and one that doesn’t sound like a single at all, but then again Liars don’t just think outside the box, they hardly even acknowledge the box’s existence.
On “No Barrier Fun,” the band constructs a cool, gothic dub, while stirring up a noxious ambient ooze on “Drip.” As the haze subsides, the band fires up the distortion and kicks up the tempo on the fierce, yet still quite bizarre “Scarecrows on a Killer Slant,” with frontman Angus Andrew screeching “why’d you pass the bum on the street? Because he bothered you!” By contrast, “I Can Still See An Outside World” is actually slightly comforting in its softened tones. This is shortly lived, however, as it builds up into another distorted storm of power chords and stoic chants. But then, something odd happens in the first half. The album becomes increasingly more user-friendly, and for that matter, almost radio friendly. “Proud Evolution” goes from lengthy, formless intro into a simple, danceable track that marks a soaring high point for the album. “The Overachievers” is another curiously accessible moment, a garage rocker with a simple chord progression and a series of absurd lines like “I bought a house with you/ we settled down with cats!”
Sisterworld‘s most awe-inspiring moment doesn’t come until just before the album’s end, however, with the epic, powerful “Goodnight Everything.” It stands as one of the band’s greatest tracks, a suspense-building anthem that transforms halfway through into a heavy, yet mesmerizing stomp. It’s the best of many cool surprises on an album full of unexpected shifts, strange constructions and abstract forms. Sisterworld doesn’t quite stack up the standout tracks like their last two albums have, yet what Liars have created here remains something consistently interesting, with moments of transcendence arising throughout. It’s a strange and eerie world Liars have created here, but it’s one definitely worth visiting.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.