For most of Liars’ 20-year career, Angus Andrew, the blur of moody charisma that holds the chameleonic electro-rock band together, avoided listening to contemporary music lest it contaminate his vision. At their best, Liars sounded like aliens who’d heard some rock, classical, and whale songs shot into space on a gold NASA record and discovered they had a weird knack for Earth music. In this light, their tenth album, The Apple Drop, is striking in its normalcy. It could often pass for Nick Cave as produced by John Carpenter, which is the sort of gloss these Mute lifers usually repel, yet it’s striated with layers of their past and their characteristic strangeness. It’s the best thing Andrew has done in at least a decade.
Liars began as part of indie rock’s storied class of 2001, when Brooklyn’s Bedford Avenue was briefly the center of the known world. There was Andrew, a very tall Australian walking arm in arm with Karen O, in the mascot couple of Williamsburg lofts. “All he knew was I was the other dude around who was into ESG,” the Rapture’s Luke Jenner recalls in Meet Me in the Bathroom, Lizzy Goodman’s essential oral history. That affinity fueled Liars’ debut, They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top. A lump of furious noise-funk coal, it was one of the earliest significant recordings from its Brooklyn demimonde, and it got out in front of the national dance-punk fad that ensued when a new generation discovered the agitprop style and sprechgesang of Gang of Four and Wire.
Though Liars were too odd and shifty to reach the popular heights of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Strokes, or Interpol, they’ve had a longer or more consistent history than their peers, even after squandering goodwill with 2004’s They Were Wrong So We Drowned, which sounded like Trench had been balled up wet and then left somewhere cold to dry. (“Unlistenable,” SPIN. “[D]isturbingly rooted in the what-the-fuck? tradition of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music,” Rolling Stone.) In 2006, they rallied with Drum’s Not Dead, on which Andrew, with bandmates Aaron Hemphill and Julian Gross, forged effects-laden ceremonial drums and coldly rapturous falsetto chants into something ancient, ahistorical, and sublime.
That drum-forward production and tortoise-brained bass looms over The Apple Drop, as do the sounds of Liars’ other two arguable masterpieces, 2007’s garage-rocking self-titled record and 2010’s cinematic Sisterworld. But the creative partnership of Andrew, Hemphill, and Gross, which bore the self-appointed strain of constant reinvention, started to show wear in the spartan electronics of WIXIW before falling flat in the dance-pop of Mess. The band amicably split, leaving Andrew—now living in a remote part of Australia—the last Liar standing. It took him two lost and lonely solo albums to grieve the partnership, the fruits of which are so lucidly digested on The Apple Drop that it feels like both a summation and a fresh start.
“Star Search,” where Andrew’s voice and plunking piano are repeatedly engulfed in firestorms of electronic harmony, is said to relate to the opaque thematic concept at the center of Drum’s Not Dead, though who could tell? And Andrew has said that “King of the Crooks” is a song he never quite cracked in that era. The standout track, “Sekwar,” sounds like what Mess could have been, boiling down EDM until only big drums, volatile bass, and sheer frills of guitar remain. “The Start” is like a chilled-out Nine Inch Nails, with an avuncular alt-rock vibe that also floats through songs like “Big Appetite.” While the moods range from atmospheric to aggressive, sculpted rhythms and dark-hued instrumentation lead this suave tour of Liars’ history and offer a glimpse of its revitalized future.
The music was refined and clarified by some recent realizations for Andrew, turning points the laconic musician has been relatively voluble about. In 2019, he served as a judge for the Australian Music Prize, and having to hear new music changed his mind about his monomaniacal process. Longing for a musical community, he enlisted jazz drummer Laurence Pike and multi-instrumentalist Cameron Deyell to play studio material that he could recompose on the computer. Mary Pearson Andrew, his wife, helped to refine his quicksand lyrics, which appear meaningless on the page but somehow fill with meaning when Andrew sings them, whether in a deep, slow croon, a diffident bark, or a fragile pleading. The collaborators seem to corral and contain his chaotic energy into uncommonly orderly songs, though one more thing also helped: the newfound benefits of replacing anxiety medication with psilocybin, which Andrew described as a key to making this album. That’s right: He made his least trippy album by tripping. How Liars is that?
Buy: Rough Trade
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