The L.A. art rockers find expression in metropolitan alienation.
Mon Apr 12 2010
In the video for Liars’ “Scissor,” off their latest LP, Sisterworld, frontman Angus Andrew is alone and unconscious on a raft stranded at sea. When he wakes up, he discovers a small stone on his vessel, and he immediately dumps it overboard. As more stones appear, Andrew furiously tosses them one by one into the sea. Toward the video’s conclusion, Andrew has floated back to a sailboat from which he originally became separated, but the rocks don’t relent, even rising out of the water to which they were just banished, pitting the singer against unknown, malevolent forces larger than himself; in the end, a giant falling rock eclipses his vessel.
Most of Liars’ music revolves around a similar tension, the struggles of the human condition imposed against the natural world and society’s constraints. On Sisterworld, released last month on Mute, Los Angeles in particular acts as a lens for this take on humanity. “People’s view of L.A. has to do with Hollywood and celebrity, where the majority of L.A. is not that,” Andrew says, calling from the city in question. “The identity of New York is relatively in line with the reality, with the experience of it,” he continues. In Los Angeles, he notes, “people are forced, in a way, to find other like-minded people, forced to try and connect with something that they’re familiar with. In that sense, you get some sort of interesting subcultures and groups. They’re sort of necessary in a city where you can literally fall through the cracks and be lost in the maelstrom.”
Sisterworld comes in tense, momentary packets of rising and falling action—songs that build to climactic moments and exhibit jagged atmospheres, always expressing the conflict that dwells within Liars’ music, a subdued violence that the trio prods as if it were a sleeping tiger. Sisterworld’s songs are among the most conventional of Liars’ excellent body of work (“The Overachievers” possibly being the closest thing to a straightforward rocker that Liars have ever done), which includes post-rock monument Drum’s Not Dead, an experimental record that launched a thousand noise-rock bands. Andrew relishes discomfort, something he’s used as stimulation for Liars’ music, and it’s not just an L.A. thing.
“It’s got to do with the way that I feel living anywhere: Since there must be some sort of love/hate, there has to be a critical side to it,” Andrew says. “It’s the way I feel about America in general. I’m drawn to it, in a sense, because of a morbid fascination.” He mentions a rehearsal space the band once maintained on Los Angeles’ Skid Row. “It gives you a real sense [that], at the core of the city, at the center point of the city, it’s a wasteland,” he says. “Most cities have that downtown area that you go towards to get an idea of the city, but L.A.’s downtown is just a homeless shelter.” Discussing the contrast that L.A. presents, Andrew says, “It’s a backwards notion, but also a very modern one. For many reasons, it’s a place you need to hold on to; otherwise it’ll be lost in the confusion.”
Liars strive to grasp this confusion, translating these complexities into dense soundscapes. First glimpsed at this year’s SXSW, the group’s latest live lineup includes two new members, nabbed from touring partners Fol Chen, making Liars’ live sound thicker and more expressive, while imbuing its music with the gravity it deserves. “We’re utilizing more members now so that we can have more opportunities to go into material we’d otherwise be limited from attacking as a three-piece,” Andrew confirms. “It’s about expanding the possibilities of our sound onstage.” That notion could very well be the reason Liars settled in L.A. in the first place: proximity to these nodes of inspiration and space to expand.
Click here for our unedited interview with Angus Andrew
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