For a band initially hyped up under the dance-punk moniker (a tag they always seemed uncomfortable with), Liars haven’t spent much time actually trying to make people move. Their first six albums covered psychotic breakdowns in LA, disintegrating relationships and backwoods ritual – but there’s been very little to actually make you want to get up and strut.
2012’s stellar sixth, ‘WIXIW’, was notably introverted, a primal electronic howl of anxiety that only let up during ‘Brats’, a brash, noisy ray of light which appears to have been the starting point for ‘Mess’.
Indeed, the opening slew of tracks here, from ‘Mask Maker’ through to first single ‘Mess On A Mission’ (below), are almost – almost – Liars go EDM. They’re loud and synthy and a whole lot of fun; the band’s sound weaponised for maximum impact. ‘Vox Tuned D.E.D.’ in particular, with its relentless beat and hoover synth, is as in-your-face as anything this trio has ever realised.
But if all that sounds like a terrible misstep, fear not. Liars remain glorious weirdoes. Something about Angus Andrew’s voice – here mostly booming and imperious, a world away from ‘WIXIW’, where he appeared to be channelling Thom Yorke – makes things instantly stranger. Like a magnetic field, it seems to warp the music around it out of shape – notably on ‘Can’t Hear Well’. ‘Mess’ has more in common with acts like Crystal Castles and Gatekeeper than it does Skrillex. Thank goodness.
The album’s second half takes a turn to the dark side, the rather knowingly titled ‘Darkslide’ telegraphing this transition, and it loses some of the earlier playfulness. ‘Boyzone’ has that familiar Liars sense of creeping dread, and a particularly enervated vocal from Andrew. The final tracks, meanwhile, both near the 10-minute mark, sound like a rave at the apocalypse. ‘Perpetual Village’ is the last hedonistic, terrifying bacchanal, and ‘Left Speaker Blown’ the desolate, windswept comedown.
It’s great, then. Obviously. Another ambitious statement from a band that has made a habit of reinventing themselves at every stage, while still, somehow, sounding uniquely like Liars. ‘Mess’ finds these men staring terror in the face – and deciding to dance.