Music Review: Liars – WIXIW

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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.

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