Another New York freak band, another chorus of angelic harmonies…but the one that opens Sisterworld has a maniacal edge, as if Liars are mocking the overt perkiness of the rest of the scene. Actually, Liars are now the first of New York’s current indie heroes to make their pop album and a followup, which is still more accessible than anything prior to the self-titled from 2007 but a definite backing-off from obvious nuggets and a return to noisier territory.
But pop absolutely doesn’t suit Liars (so far), so the raucous eccentricity plays a little bit like a crutch. What would be dangerous for most bands is Liars’ safety net. I’m not suggesting that Sisterworld is uninspired, or that it sounds much like any of their other albums; just that they are flailing a bit right now. And as sons and daughters of Cops through YouTube, we can feel free to enjoy the capture.
Los Angeles is the professed theme of the album, and these New Yawkers are clearly not endeared. The first unnerving gem is “Here Comes All The People”, dominated by a sickeningly sweet bass hook being chased by slasher-flick piano and violin, and buzzsaw guitar that you almost have to strain to make out. Incomprehensible whispers creep you out against casual deadpans like “counting victims one by one”; Angus Andrews’ vocals go way beyond hipster detachment, bordering on psychosis.
Lyrically, I suspect Andrews intended “warning”, but it feels more like “judgment”, a collection of condemnatory caricature studies. The mood is oppressive and might have been noxious if it weren’t for the piercing power of the songs. On “Scarecrows On A Killer Slant”, he spits “Why’d you pass the bum on the street/’Cause he bothered you” over a punishing metallic dance/drone, climaxing the song ferociously with “Stand ‘em in the street with a gun/And then kill ‘em all”, and naturally the song ends in sarcastic, discordant ooooo’s. It’s one of the best songs of the year. “I Still Can See An Outside World” and “The Overachievers” are almost as venomous and almost as good.
The album shifts uneasily between eerie, fractured sedations and harrowing assaults; there’s nothing remotely comforting or pleasant here, and nothing resembling a real vocal melody, but there never really has been on a Liars album. There’s also no musical vision tying the album together, and it ends puzzlingly with its two weakest songs. If you’re craving Liars’ ability to develop and explore symbiotic themes to the benefit of a greater whole (à la 2006’s Drum’s Not Dead), you’ll find this album lacking. But overall, the disjointed flow fits, and the darkest and heaviest Liars offering yet provides enough choice cuts to make the highlight reel.