Monday, January 3, 2011

They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top
Blast First/Mute
Uncut, 2002

by Simon Reynolds

On the face of it, there’s no reason why LIARS’s brand of retro is superior to, say, The Hives’s. The former echo Gang of Four and The Fall; the latter are the latest in a long lineage of garage punk rehash that includes Fleshtones, Scientists, Billy Childish, and countless others. 1979 versus 1966: is there really a difference? Well, I’d argue that the post-punk template LIARS draw on is way more open-ended and possibility-rich than the narrow set of archival resources that fuel The Hives. And that those 1979-82 reference points are simply fresher: this is the first time post-punk has been rediscovered, whereas with the garage punk re-re-revival, pop has eaten these portions of itself several times already, the cud is thrice-chewed and flavourless.

New York’s LIARS are just one of a small swarm of American bands inspired by 1979-and-all-that. Others of note include The Rapture (check the "At Home He Feels Like A Tourist" disco-punk of their ace "House of Jealous Lovers" 12 inch), Erase Errata (steeped in untypical girl groups like Slits, Delta 5, Ut), and Radio 4 (named after a Metal Box tune, but sadly sounding nothing like that Satie-esque anomaly in PiL’s oeuvre). As for LIARS, they’re a bit like Gang of Four’s Entertainment played with a Birthday Party-like looseness (or "Loose"-ness, given the Aussie group’s debts to Funhouse-era Stooges). The fractious, backfiring rhythm guitar and the punk-funking pummel of the bass ‘n’ drums are sourced in Entertainment songs like "Natural’s Not In It". But the feel is less anally clenched than Go4, more Butthole-surfing: live, this band really kick out the jams.

"Mr Your On Fire Mr" is the stand-out here, with its stop-start groove, cowbell clatter and funky flurry of mechanical handclaps. "Tumbling Walls Buried Me in the Debris With ESG" (the title presumably nodding to legendary New York mutant disco outfit ESG, once hailed as PiL meets The Supremes), is close behind, its brittle fatback drum circling a doomstruck bassline that could be off Junkyard or Unknown Pleasures. And just as the Andy Gill homage starts to get a little stale, final track "This Dust Makes That Mud" showcases a whole other dimension to the band, its hypnotic, drug-hazy drone redolent of Queens of the Stone Age at their most motorik and Can-like. Eight minutes into its life, the song devolves into a locked groove riff that takes up the entire remainder of the CD (quite a lot because Trench is a short and punchy LP) and whose stuporous effect is so potent this reviewer woke up glazed and groggy with his forehead all qwerty-ed with the imprint of the computer keyboard.

Tranced-out narcosis is not what LIARS are really about, though: they’re a jolt of hyper-alert tension, a real anxiety-rush. Angus Andrew’s vocals, Anglo-accented (he’s actually Australian) and frequently distorted as if declaimed through a loudhailer, are hectoring yet opaque, M.E. Smith-stylee. Which brings up the big difference between ‘79 and ‘02: the original post-punk groups, operating in a highly politicized context, coming fresh from punk and burdened with its imperatives to change and confrontation, were much more upfront and direct about their critique. There’s a sense in which today’s wave of post-punk influenced groups are totally wired and fired by the idea of agit-prop and dissidence, but it’s not nearly so clear what inspires their ire, or whether they’ll ever find a context that lends their struggle any resonance. For now, though, LIARS transmit a powerful aura of commitment and militancy: mission implacable, if impenetrable. And They Threw Us All In A Trench is one of the most adrenalizing albums you’ll hear this year.


by Simon Reynolds

Easily the most impressive of the recent swarm of postpunk-inspired groups, Liars have always strived to make music in that era’s adventurous spirit, rather simply replicating the sound of vintage futurism from 25 years ago. Unfortunately that made their last two albums easier to admire than enjoy. Now the Brooklyn-exiled-to-Berlin band have dropped their (avant) guard a bit and conquered their retrophobia with an album that risks reminding you of things from rock history you already like. So the big bashy drums and war-whoops of “Plaster Casts of Everything” recall Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” while the Gothtronica of “Houseclouds” resemble Love and Rockets remodeled for Generation Ecstasy. “Pure Unevil” even doubles the retro effect, harking back to Jesus and Mary Chain’s circa 1985’s Psychocandy ploy of submerging perfect Sixties melody in a murky crypt of dank reverb. Liars’s trademark experimental touches--the crunchily processed beats and glass-splinter textures--are still present, but they’re now put in service of songs and grooves. The result is their most straight-up entertaining record, riddled with moody hooks that lodge in your memory like brain-worms.

No comments: