At this point, Liars' new game change shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody: like a snake changing skin, the band mutates every season. They've done their experimental album, their more conventional rock one, their post-punk one, and now, of course, it's time to do their electronic one. Over the past couple of weeks, Liars have been revealing details about “Wixiw” (Mute, 2012) in some mysterious videos: spiked lemons, microphones recording the sound of water, a big warehouse in Los Angeles, an iron “L”; and a producer whose name wasn't revealed until recently: none other than Daniel Miller, founder of Mute and maker of that classic “Warm Leatherette”, signed as The Normal. With those ingredients, it was to be expected that the album wouldn't be an easy 4x4 affair with a few experimental touches, but what's most surprising is how bright this “Wixiw” sounds, something rather unusual for a band that takes its fans to the darkest corners of the musical universe.
There are hardly any emotional shocks or impenetrable sonic pits on “Wixiw”, like there were on “Sisterworld” (Mute, 2010), their previous effort. In fact, the only concession they made to the metallic, alienating sound of that album is “Octagon”, which also refers to another great Liars album, “Drum’s Not Dead” (Mute, 2006), whose influence is also present in the album opener, “The Exact Colour Of Doubt”, which seems to pick up the tone of said LP. While “Drum’s Not Dead” finished with Andrew reciting, like a litany, “I can always be found”, here the words “I’ll always be your friend” are spoken over a base very much reminiscent of their 2006 effort. All over the record, they refer to themselves with tiny details that their avid followers will surely recognise: “Flood To Flood” sounds like the peaceful flipside of “There’s Always Room In The Broom”, the drums (now with new sounds, like on “A Ring On Every Finger”) play a role as big as on “Drum’s Not Dead”, and the manipulation of the guitars is sometimes reminiscent of “They Were Wrong, So We Drowned” (with the title track as a prime example).
One of the successes on the album is how they found a balance between analogue instruments and sequencers, managing to sound innovative without betraying the typical Liars sound, slippery and unclassifiable, yet instantly recognisable. Even a frivolous electronic track like “Brats” has its roots in the experimental rock the trio loves so much. Maybe to compensate, or simply to dazzle once more, they finish with “Annual Moon Words”, a pop song with a folk feel that will no doubt sound great when played acoustically.
However, the biggest surprise is the peaceful (not boring) melodies, so unusual for the band. The previously uncontrollable tension is now contained and transformed into hedonistic tracks that are often danceable, even unconsciously, but which still challenge the listener, with samples and rhythms that have actually always been part of the band, but now flow without restraint. Maybe now the time is right, maybe each and every one of the Liars’ previous experiments were necessary to get here, even on that first, self-titled album that could have sounded so conventional at the time. Given the energy of their concerts, this album might grow quite a bit when played live. Time will tell.