Album Review: Liars – WIXIW

[Mute; 2012]

Liars have always had vast directional shifts in terms of their albums, that much is known. In the past, their records were heavier, bitter and harshly unsettled. All the way through Sisterworld, their albums were full of mental and outside conflict that constantly retaliated on itself. Paired with their off-kilter instrumentation, these albums put Liars on the map as a band that was ready to push their own envelope at any given moment.

Though it hasn’t always paid off completely, Liars’ endeavors always popped out as interesting or at least different than what they were doing before. And guess what? Liars are still doing that and probably in a greater force than they ever have. From the day “No. 1 Against The Rush” was shown off to the world, it was immediately sensed that their upcoming sixth album WIXIW would be another departure, one that would put Liars in a Warp-electronic inspired sweep of sound. And while it sounds reminiscent of previously released IDM, the album is very much written, created, and produced by Liars in an extremely clever and subtle way.

If someone told me Liars were going to make an electronic album and make it really well, I would have taken that statement with a couple grains of salt. Liars is a band that exceeds with organic instrumentation and to take that and throw it out the window seems crazy. Me being dead wrong, they manage to create a realm of sound that harkens back to their own normality that still serves as a significant leap in their production and sound. From the get-go of the album, cloud-like synth-scapes surround “The Exact Colour of Doubt” with guitar, bass, piano, and claps trembling in the background of it all and then flow into the IDM-influenced track “Octagon,” where Angus’s vocals sort of peak over the song at moments of weakness and diminished silence, which occurs often throughout WIXIW. Things have definitely changed.

Even among sonic changes, the biggest thing that’s changed in Liars’ hearts with this record is a decreased disgust toward the world and the way people work from their insides. These themes wrought several of their previous albums and to have that removed on WIXIW means a lot for the band and mindset. This album sounds a lot like they accept themselves as a group or even individuals, which could explain the exterior changes or it could simply be because WIXIW is their most cohesive and accessible album to date.

“It’s a palindrome, and that interested us as far as the idea of starting somewhere, going through a lot of work, and ending up in the same place you started.” This was a statement the band made in regards to the odd, seemingly unpronounceable album title of WIXIW (later revealed properly to be said as “wish you”), but with a closer look this palindrome ties itself to the album in even more ways. The title track places itself smack in the middle, perhaps the most obvious way to discuss a point of symmetry and the tracks tonally mirror themselves. “A Ring on Every Finger” and “Flood to Flood” emanate percussive layers through synth and have a similar sound pattern throughout each other. The same goes for “Octagon” and the dance-ready track “Brats,” where the layers of the track reflect each other, “Octagon” having a drum-beat focus while “Brats” surrounds itself with bursting synth. While all of this isn’t immediately noticeable, the peeling apart and reveal over listens is quite stunning.

The major exceptions to the general palindrome-effect of WIXIW are the intro and outro tracks, no less. By the time the album is ending, “Brats,” the point at which synths are blowing up all over the place, has ended and transitioned jarringly into “Annual Moon Words.” This song sets itself apart from the rest of the album by removing most of the synthetic elements and replacing them with acoustics, but the tone of the song differs drastically as well–it feels happy, but most of all comfortable and serene, two qualities shared by its mirroring track “The Exact Color of Doubt.” While comparisons to Radiohead’s Kid A will endlessly be made in discussions about WIXIW, it’s definitely not reaching for what that album did nor seeks to. This is very much a Liars album, a very good one at that, and it’s important to stay grounded and not jump to easy conclusions and associations. WIXIW is simply a Liars album that exceeds expectations and throws a sonic left curve that not only impresses, but reminds us how talented this band is.