BLENDER MIX Liars' sixth album, WIXIW, is a sonic departure, combining soulful synthpop, prickly
dance-punk, gentle Kraut burbling, and meticulous techno oscillations.
When Liars first emerged a decade ago, their post-punk thrashing, no-wave abrasion, and feral howls felt dangerous — the sound of a zombie apocalypse before it was trendy. As the band's career evolved, their sound kept morphing in intriguing ways: thundering drums, brash guitars, and eerie keyboards accumulated and then gave way to burned-out disco, gothic garage, and creepy, percussive-rich experiments. Liars recalled acts like Xiu Xiu, Jesus and Mary Chain, and TV on The Radio, but were never fully beholden to any of them.
The band's recently released sixth album, WIXIW (Mute), pronounced "wish you," is a sonic departure — even for them. Primarily electronic-based (save for the psychedelic "Annual Moon Words" and the Books-esque "Ill Valley Prodigies," which matches acoustic guitar to muttering found sounds), the moody record encompasses soulful synthpop, prickly dance-punk, gentle Kraut burbling, and meticulous techno oscillations. Radiohead's most recent music — especially the marriage of dank beats with Thom Yorke's falsetto croon — is an obvious touchstone on WIXIW. But, as always, Liars maintain a sinister underbelly that's delightfully unsettling.
"We decided to be more about the process of this record," says drummer Julian Gross, fresh off a thrift-shopping expedition in his hometown of Los Angeles. (Despite being strongly tempted, he passed on purchasing vinyl singles by Shaggy and Ms. Dynamite.) "The process was using the computer and electronics and the experimentation with sound. That which is all very new to us becomes exciting and scary at the same time, because you don't know what you're doing. When you pull yourself out of the comfort zone, it's hard not to feel a bit anxious and to work harder."
To create WIXIW, the band split into two camps: frontman Angus Andrew and multi-instrumentalist Aaron Hemphill holed up in a remote cabin about two hours from Los Angeles, while Gross stayed behind to work on his parts at home. Paradoxically, the separation was a boon to Liars' creative process, minimizing distractions and improving the band's focus.
"[Our music has] always sort of been worked on separately, where people are in their different homes and we're swapping files and stuff," Gross says. "But this time, it was way more collaborative. I would come once a week and drop off drum loops, drum stuff I was playing with, and food, and they would hand me some files to fuck around with. The collaboration process was a bigger part of this record."
Figuring out how to translate WIXIW's computer-created sounds from the studio to the stage was also a group effort. For instance, Gross had drastically manipulated his drum sounds to the point that duplicating them live would have been almost impossible. "We weren't thinking about it live when we were making it," Gross explains. "We were just trying to create interesting sounds and make these songs. After we did that, the record's done, we're like, 'All right, let's fucking do this thing live!,' and then you're like, 'Well, how did you do that one keyboard sound?' You're like, 'Fuck, I have no idea.' 'Was that this chord, or was that in the computer?' How do I now find these sounds?"