I’ve talked about the reception Liars’ They Were Wrong, So We Drowned received in 2004. Places that loved their 2001 debut They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top trashed the noisier witch-inspired collection: Rolling Stone gave it one star out of five (“An electronic-noise collage that sounds disturbingly rooted in the what-the-fuck? tradition of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music“), SPIN tagged it with an “F” and called it “unlistenable,” Pitchfork offered it a 6.3 that read more like a 5.4 (They Threw scored an 8.1), and Billboard called it “a gigantic step backward.” Thing is, Billboard, it was one of the more forward thinking albums released that year.
Worth noting: The previously mentioned publications loved They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top. I didn’t. I thought it was pretty bland. As I wrote in a 2005 review of It Fit When I Was A Kid:
Overall, Liars deserve an award for most improved Williamsburg neo no-wave band. I used to think the Brooklyn-to-Berlin group was an obnoxious snoreful, but on last year’s They Were Wrong, So We Drowned the boys unveiled a stirring drone-o-rific direction. At the time, those expecting more of the same-old panned the collection, and since that time the resentment has seemingly deepened.
So that’s a difference. Though I didn’t hate it. It just seemed fairly run-of-the-mill 2001 (and, OK, the early live shows annoyed me). In contrast, I gave They Were Wrong 4 out of 5 bunny ears at Playboy.com (yes). It was (and is) anything but run-of-the-mill. I’d give it the same score today, though it’s become more important than I’d anticipated.
The themes — witchcraft on a mountain during Walpurgis Night, witch trials in Germany, “Broken Witch,” etc. — and darkly percussive sound anticipated a darker strain in more popular “indie rock” that’s run pretty rampant today. That realm of “underground” music was a sunnier place in 2004 and 2005. (Think about the band blogs pushed in ’05/’06: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Tapes N Tapes, Oh No Oh My, Forward Russia, Bloc Party, The Spinto Band, etc. This doesn’t take into consideration the Decemberists scoring Best New Music for Picaresque or… etc. Exploratory music existed, of course — kids were getting on the Animal Collective train, but in most cases, folks weren’t interested in the bleak or the out there.) Now, consider the post-twee goth-i-fication of indie rock over the past couple of years via “witch house” and colder wave crossovers of various sorts like Zola Jesus, Tamaryn, Cold Cave, Oneohtrix Point Never, Blessure Grave, Chelsea Wolfe, Frank (Just Frank), White Ring, Crystal Castles, oOoOO, Salem, Blank Dogs, and more recently Esben And The Witch, Austra, TRUST, etc.
Indie rock’s also become a more adventurous compositionally: Your average indie kid listens to much more fucked up music then he or she did even just a few years ago. You can’t give Liars full credit, but with a few other key albums, They Were Wrong helped launched a thousand Altered Zones. Even if it hadn’t, the songs are strong, something overlooked in the rush to discount a followup that didn’t tread the path of its predecessor. For a more recent example of this, look at MGMT’s Congratulations (a braver, more grownup album than Oracular Spectacular). Or check out the bedroom percussive-ness of “Broken Witch,” lo-fi industrial of “There’s Always Room On The Broom,” the moody dance-drone of “We Fenced Other Gardens with the Bones of Our Own,” the imploded Krautrock of “They Don’t Want Your Corn They Want Your Kids,” etc. The record’s a tight, logical 40 minutes, not the meandering mess it was made out to be.
Of course, it also marked the course Liars would take after the easier dance-punk of their debut, opening up the space not only for Drum’s Not Dead — a great album I gave a whopping 9.0 at Pitchfork a couple years later — but all the increasingly punk albums that appeared after it. (It pairs really well with Liars and Sisterworld.) If you haven’t for a while, plop it in — even if you hated it then, it should make perfect sense now. To get you started, here’s opener “Broken Witch” and an old-time favorite, “They Don’t Want Your Corn They Want Your Kids.”
They Were Wrong, So We Drowned is out via Mute. Mute ought to reissue it tomorrow under a different name and see what happens.
P.S. Metal Machine Music’s pretty great, too, RS.