New York’s Liars have the much-coveted ability to hop between genres without sounding overextended or plagiaristic. Since their dance-punk debut They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top in 2001, the trio has spent more than a decade toying with standard song structure, never failing to perplex even their most loyal fans. This is ultimately what’s kept them interesting and relevant for so long in a comically fickle music industry. WIXIW is being called their “electronic” record, and while that’s accurate, it makes it sound more like a deliberate concept rather than what it really is, a natural progression of a band that has made a career out of pushing the limits of what a rock song can be.
The most obvious comparison to make is that WIXIW sounds a hell of a lot like Radiohead, Liars’ one-time tourmates and most famous fans. It’s a hard comparison to ignore, especially when the record’s first two tracks—the swooning “The Exact Colour of Doubt” and eerie, pulsating “Octagon”—sound like they could fit in anywhere on Kid A or any of the records that followed it. But, when you get to “No. 1 Against the Rush,” the album’s hauntingly beautiful first single, it’s clear that the band has figured out way to do the electronic thing in their own style. Frontman Angus Andrew gives the record’s most powerful vocal performance, using a deep baritone that sounds much more like The National’s Matt Berninger than the whine of Thom Yorke’s. He often mumbles through his lyrics, but it’s the emotion that Andrew’ vocal tone conveys that resonates as opposed to the specific words themselves.
From there, things are kind of all over the place, but in the best way possible. “A Ring On Every Finger” sounds a bit like Beck when he’s at his weirdest, and “Ill Valley Prodigies” finds Andrew back to doing his best Yorke impression over what actually might be a guitar and samples that sound like they were taken from your local zoo’s bird house. The clubby “Brats” is the closest the band comes to dancey or sounding like the “the old Liars,” but since they’ve never really repeated themselves before, listeners shouldn’t expect WIXIW to sound like any previous Liars records, because it definitely doesn’t.
In talking about their latest effort, Andrew candidly admitted that the band didn’t exactly know what they were doing and the songs were experiments as much as anything else. And while 40-plus minutes of these experiments may start to drag, Liars’ ability to work in hooks and structure to oddball electronic music is both admirable and pleasantly surprising. WIXIW cements Liars as the kind of band that can do whatever they want, and it’s always going to be worth paying attention to.