Available now on Mute Records (June 5, 2012)
The Liars sixth full-length album is all about advancing boundaries. Since the band’s first experimental rock release in 2001, it has been resolute in defying genre designations, preferring instead to experiment with sound and rhythm. WIXIW is no exception. Even its title shares in the desire to challenge expectation. The configuration of letters seems as much about shapes as it does about meaning. The palindrome is to be pronounced, “wish you.” Read this way, the title carries hope and promise beside other possibilities: longing, anxiety, confusion.
The album is full of similarly muddled emotions. Much of WIXIW consists of otherworldly ambient-electronic tracks, ranging in sentiment from welcoming to sinister. The album opener, “The Exact Color of Doubt” invites listeners into an expansive soundscape decorated with rhythmic hand clapping. But the next track, “Octagon,” leads them into a dark, bass-filled underworld embellished with the chatter of bats and mice. The quick change in tone invites comparisons to Aphex Twin and Amon Tobin, who displayed a similar dexterity in their ability to both soothe and frighten.
After the first two tracks, almost all of WIXIW is a blend of beauty and distortion. The upbeat rhythm driving “No.1 Against The Rush” is tinged with warped guitar. The playful melodies and rhythms of “Ring On Every Finger” and “Flood to Flood” are countered by ominous, droning vocals. “Ill Valley Prodigies” balances an air of suspicion with endearing vulnerability. The title track is catchy despite its anxious beat and schizophrenic melody. Those who make it to “Annual Moon Words,” will discover a meditative psych-rock backwater, apparently designed to usher them safely from the voyage that has been this album.
Music is powerful, and going into dark, scary places with a stranger requires a degree of trust. It’s your own ghosts you’ll encounter, and you don’t even know where you’re going. Sometimes a listener can justify picking a few favorite tracks and skipping through the uncomfortable parts, but WIXIW does not clearly distinguish between the bright and dark. For many, this will make it hard to get inside the music. Still, radiance interlaced throughout will offer almost any listener rewards. With WIXIW, Liars review experimental rock as they forge new territory. They explore a junk yard, a good dream, a crime scene. They’re making something from it all, and they’re asking you to come along.