“It seems like all our friends are gone,” sobs Angus Andrew on the fourth track of the Liars’ third album, Drum’s Not Dead. “You drove them out,” he answers himself. Maybe he’s talking about the reaction to the band’s second record, the harrowing They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, a chaos-injected concept album about German witch gatherings on Brocken Mountain. Everyone was expecting more of the same from the NYC dance-punk revivalists following their hyped debut, They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, and most people didn’t buy the baffling reinvention. Several major publications deemed the follow-up entirely unlistenable.
So they enter their third album with a clean slate and, perhaps, no friends left. But that’s alright for Liars. They’ve always taken a certain childish glee in confounding the expectations of their audience, leaving the opinions of both their fans and their critics utterly polarised.
Here’s something to unite them: Drum’s Not Dead is a record of fascinating complexity, unravelling at each captivating step a world of equal parts force and fragility. Centering around two main characters who embody these parts, the assertive Drum, and the self-doubting Mt. Heart Attack, the record is a highly-rhythmic drone of lush guitars and Andrew’s spooky falsetto.
The band, once flag-bearers of the revitalised New York scene at the turn of the century, relocated to Berlin (like another innovator did in the 1970s who I can’t seem to remember the name of). The continental shift inspired the Liars to push themselves in both obscure and traditional directions. While a song like “Let’s Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack”, with its cliff-diving hollers and eerie, ritualistic percussion shows them delving further into unpredictability, lead single “It Fit When I Was a Kid” is one of the most cohesive songs Andrew has ever penned, as terrifying as its sounds can be.
Each track flows seamlessly into the other and, though the opening trilogy is the most exciting sequence on the record, the elements at work on Drum’s Not Dead never fail to surprise and amaze. Whether it be the shivering, Animal Collective-influenced “Drum Gets a Glimpse”, or the metallic crescendo of “Drum and the Uncomfortable Can”, there’s a trick of genius up every sleeve.
But the Liars attain their greatest height at the very last minute, with the stripped down, shimmering “The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack”, a song that brings back memories of hearing the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Modern Romance” for the first time. Reverb-gilded guitars sing a simple melody that compliments Andrew’s honest poetry: “If you want me to stay/I will stay by your side.” It’s the first time you can hear the Liars speaking directly, with their message crystal clear, not shrouded in their genre-bending mischief.
At the end of a record this diverse, it comes as a shock to hear such a succinct statement. But then again, this entire album comes as a shock. From across the Atlantic, the unexpected has occurred: these exiled, friendless pioneers have just established themselves as one of the most important bands recording today.