When we last heard a new album from Liars, it was the cold, minimal, though very affecting WIXIW, a sharp left turn in a discography full of them. Now they’ve just taken another. If the manic single “Mess On A Mission,” or the artwork of their seventh album, Mess (above), didn’t tip you off that Liars were changing (again), the opener “Mask Maker” will. The album begins with a warped, deep voice that gives us a series of commands — “Take my pants off, use my socks, smell my socks, eat my face off, eat my face off, take my face, give me your face, GIVE ME YOUR FACE” — then the beat drops in and we’re off on the colorful, fucked-up carnival ride that is this album. A lot of what makes this record great is summed up in that first song, so loose and party-ready that it takes a break midway through to sample Tony Iommi’s hacking cough from Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf.” Liars are having a really fun time spreading bad vibes.
While the fragile electronic soundscapes of WIXIW have blossomed into a more energetic and fun album here, Liars blend that with moments that find them at the creepiest they’ve sounded in years. “Vox Detuned D.E.D.” has Angus Andrew moaning over what sounds like an exercise video soundtrack from hell, “Pro Anti Anti” is exactly the kind of huge stomper that people have missed from Liars these past few years, and instrumental “Darkslide” finds them taking the programming chops they honed on WIXIW and applying them to the unsettling vibes of They Were Wrong, So We Drowned. The 9-minute “Perpetual Village” definitely moves, but slows things down for the beautiful drones and lush dread of “Left Speaker Blown,” which continues Liars’ habit of great closers.
It shares something in title and spirit with the sparse, sobering “Can’t Hear Well,” a song that was first introduced to me live during Liars’ performance at MoMa PS1 last summer in Queens. The shortest song on Mess, “Can’t Hear Well” towers over this album with slow-pulse synths that bring to mind Radiohead’s “Like Spinning Plates,” while Angus delivers his tenderest vocals since “The Other Side Of Mt. Heart Attack.” The eye of the storm to their most gleefully chaotic album it stands among the best songs this band has produced. Mess is built like a good dance mix, but filled with all the eccentricities that have made Liars such a unique and loved band. It’s the weirdest recent release you could still get away with putting on at a party, and definitely worth your time. Stream it now via NPR.
Mess is out 3/24 via Mute.