Review: Liars – Mess

Liars Mess
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opinion by BRENDAN FRANK

Liars have a pretty good thing going. Every album they release is a blind taste test defined by the complete discontinuity from what’s come before it. Over seven albums, they’ve never felt the need to repeat themselves, sucking dance-punk, noise rock, electronica and a massive amount of general strangeness into the inlet of their fucked up music-making machine. As electrifying as they are, gear changes like Drum’s Not Dead and WIXIW are more or less expected at this point.

The downside of course is if you grow attached any one of the band’s albums, it comes with the promise that there won’t be a sequel. Mess isn’t that, but it’s probably the closest Liars have come. The seventh effort from the New York trio isn’t another wholesale reinvention, rather a head-first dive into a pool they’d previously only dipped a toe in. Vocalist Angus Andrew, utility man Aaron Hemphill and drummer Julian Gross build off of the gaunt minimalism of WIXIW in a very bellicose manner, complete with weapons-grade synthesizers and four-to-the-floor sonic stampedes.

But describing Mess as dance music is a slight misappropriation. It’s Liars’ anti-pop album, danceable in the way that drone music is hummable. This is the Hyde to WIXIW’s Jekyll, a wild, kinetic record that dares you to ponder how music this menacing also actually wants to get your feet moving.

Andrew described the writing and recording of Mess as “instinctual”. Several of the songs have discernible choruses, and there are bangers the likes of which haven’t been seen since “Mr. Your On Fire Mr.”. But despite the more orthodox structure, Mess is quite clearly anti-pop, anxious and dystopian in its vision.

From a technical standpoint, Mess is astonishing. Hooks appear in the strangest places, sometimes deeply embedded into the atonality, sometimes closer to the surface than Liars have ever allowed before. Take “Vox Tuned D.E.D.”, a sludgy stomper that experiments with syncopation and contains an outro that’s downright catchy. Twitchy lead single “Mess on a Mission” is as close as the album gets to accessibility. Synths whizz and gurgle, the percussion so tightly coiled that the arms-up lunacy of the chorus seems necessary to prevent a malfunction.

Sometimes it’s all about restraint, as with closer “Left Speaker Blown”, which bookends the album’s more abstract half, or with the second-generation Kid A product, “Dresswalker”. But sometimes it’s all about scale: “Pro Anti Anti” takes the portentousness of Justice, its fiery beat the kind you’d expect to be played in an occult, subterranean club where you can pay $50 a minute to talk to a hologram of Ralf Hütter.

Through it all, the experimentalism on Mess is a little more reigned in, never straying far from buzzing synths or rhythmic emphasis, even across a range of tempos. Some of the lyrics are clever (“Trash the book the films are based on”), most of them are buried by the production. Some of it is indulgent, all of it is fascinating. As the trio continue to remould and refine their craft, Mess, an album fuelled by impulse, demonstrates their ideological core hasn’t moved an inch. B+

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