Liars - They Were Wrong, So We Drowned

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.

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Comments (55)
  1. Wow, great music to my ears, but I’m sure if I had listened to it back then I would have hated it.

  2. Spot on the money. It’s funny, I wrote a piece on the album’s negative reception for Slate back in 2004 (and made a few enemies in the process, I think) – http://www.slate.com/id/2098917/

    Anyway, you’re totally right about how the record presaged the whole witchy turn in contemporary indie & electronics. I’ll have to dig it out again, been years since I listened to it.

  3. My friend Adam and I have been on a quest to get people to re-evaluate this album. We both thought, like you, that They Threw Us All in a Trench… was okay but not a revelation. And imagine where the Liars would’ve ended up playing their older brand of funky punk: it didn’t bode well for the rest of their class of 2001, but Liars are now “elder statesmen,” whatever that means.

  4. ddogdunit  |   Posted on Mar 17th, 2011 -9

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • There’s always room to reflect on older music. Do you discard all your old albums after they become less than contemporary? Older music has a lot to tell us about where music will be headed in the future as well.

    • Howl Howl Gaff Gaff is so goood!!!!!!

    • Wow, that comment by ddogdunit made me a little sad about the current expectations of music journalism. Music to a lot of people is now just consumable bits of food that we frantically gobble down when it is new, then we get sick of it and throw it away looking for the next new fix.

      I love the thrill of exciting new bands/albums, but reflecting on past albums is something I wish more sites did. Typically a site will review an album as fast as possible (making you wonder how many times they could have possibly played it) and then we forget about it by the end of the week. I wish there were more follow-up pieces about albums that were misunderstood (over- or under-appreciated) and albums that are growers. It’s sad to see bad album reviews hovering out there for years when the reviewer really missed the mark while rushing out a review for release day. Anyway, thanks to brandon for a nice piece.

  5. the drumming reminds me of The King of Limbs which I am still enjoying

  6. i really loved this album, the one thing i thought hurt it was that broken witch was so fucking good the rest of the album never quite matches it, angus screaming blood blood blood is possibly the most memorable thing from the early 2000s for me.

  7. I guess the thing I find confusing about these features is that they aren’t really double-takes at all. I think it’d be interesting if you re-reviewed an album that you had reviewed and changed your mind about. For instance, when the new LCD came out last year and I listened a bunch I thought it was half baked and underwhelming. I let it sit for a month and then went back to it and ended up LOVING it. I’m not a professional critic or writer, so who the fuck cares about my opinion. But you guys are! So it’d be interesting to see when/why these changes of opinion occur.

    These double-takes seem to just be cases where an album was reviewed in a way with which Brandon disagrees, then after some amount of time he comes out and says as much?

    • Well, the idea is to offer a different (or second) take on a predominant opinion/critical strain regarding particular albums.

      But your idea’s an interesting one, definitely. Maybe I’ll use that angle for one of these.

      • I agree with alexxx. In fact, I was excited about this feature because I thought this was what it would be, but really it’s just you saying “I liked it/hated it before liking it/hating it was cool.” Not that you shouldn’t be able to have your opinions and run back to albums that may have been (wrongly) critically panned or adored, but it seems kind of pointless. We all have our albums that we declare to anyone listening “the critics were wrong!” but we also understand that no one really cares how we feel about 2003′s Harvey Danger record that didn’t get the love it deserved. Just my opinion.

  8. Just a thought. It’s your blog, not mine : )

  9. As the publicist for the band at the time, it was one of the hardest projects I did press for and also one of the most rewarding. Liars were fearless releasing this album. And kudos to Daniel Miller and Mute for backing them. Thanks for memories….

  10. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah…

    Man, I was in love with this album circa 05-06. I still pop this in on occasion (skipping the intro every time). How the mighty have fallen, though. Some Loud Thunder’s intentional crappiness almost retroactively killed the debut for me.

    One fine example of how blog hype can be a terrible thing if a band isn’t able to handle it, for whatever reason.

    • I never did get into Some Loud Thunder, but the solo album by Alec Ounsworth was actually pretty solid.

      • Wow, for posterity’s sake, I have to say that this comment I wrote made me feel guilty about never really listening to Some Loud Thunder. Well, for the past three weeks I have had the album literally on repeat. Amazing, amazing album. I now feel much more strongly about this album than their self-titled debut (which is a really good album, also).

        I’ve also gotten into his Flashy Python album that I ignored the first time around. More good stuff.

  11. Radiohead, avowed Liars fans, took a lot of queues from the stuttering, ramshackle percussion on They Were Wrong on the opening track of King of Limbs.

  12. Personally this is my favorite Liars album (only narrowly beating out DND), and I loved it from the first listen. I remember people walking into my place when i was playing Broken Witch one day and just making confused shitfaces upon hearing “BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD”. I’ve always imagined that thats how a lot of the people who reviewed the album reacted (unfortunately).

  13. This album birthed some pretty fantastic vocal mantras: “Fly, Fly the devil’s in your eye. Shoot shoot — WE’RE DOOMED WE’RE DOOMED” will forever be branded in my skull. Against most negative reception from some of my trusted critical sources telling me otherwise, I still purchased and dug the album at the time of its release. I remember Thom Yorke playing The Liars on some DJ program and discussing their intentional creepiness, so the Radiohead reference may not be so far off.

  14. I’d love to see a Double Take about “Skeletal Lamping.” Personally, it’s my favorite of Montreal album, haters be damned, and I get awfully tired of only hearing about “Hissing Fauna,” as if that’s the only good thing oM’s ever released.

    • Seriously. I’m ready for a double-take on “False Priest” already. The reception of of Montreal* albums is always strange to me. It’s never in line with what I expect. The first time I heard “False Priest” I immediately was thinking, “Wow, the sound is fuller than it’s ever been with them – this has to be a top 10 album of the year.” After reading some reviews, I was perplexed to see that the critics found it mediocre.

      *Note: The double “of” in that sentence looks weird, but I will never capitalize the “of” in their band name again after Kevin Barnes’ response to Pitchfork: http://theviolenceofhandcrafteddolls.tumblr.com/post/1689432059/reflections-on-my-pitchfork-review

    • i can’t tell you how long i’ve been waiting for someone to agree with on this point. “skeletal lamping” is quite possibly, & at times most definitely my favorite album of the last decade.

      • What always gets me is how “indie” music fans, people you would think would be open to hearing all sorts of different experimental music, dismiss “Skeletal Lamping” due to it being “inaccessible” and too schizophrenic. But it’s got amazing melodies throughout, both vocal and instrumentally.

        It’s a bit difficult to digest at first, yes, but if you give it a few listens you start to pick up on (or perhaps create?) a certain weird internal logic to the constant shifts, despite how jarring they are at first. At this point, though, I couldn’t imagine a single one of the songs being structured any differently; in fact, I think that would ruin the album completely.

        I guess as frustrating as it is though, most people will continue to only think of “Hissing Fauna” and the Outback commercial when they think of oM, but they are really, really missing out.

      • Absolutely! It’s in my top 5 of the decade. It blew my mind when I first heard it and I still haven’t gotten tired of it.

    • I 100% agree, I REALLY like Skeletal Lamping.

    • I still can’t really get into Skeletal Lamping (to me it sounds like 4 of Montreal albums mashed up with each other… no segment last long enough for me to get my hooks into), but I totally agree with people only looking to Hissing Fauna as of Montreal’s “good album”. I started listening to them when Satanic Panic came out, and I looovvve that album. Hissing Fauna is awesome, but things before it never even get a mention.

      • @Bonk–Maybe give it another listen? There are a few songs that don’t really have the schizo-mashup feel. Namely:

        -Gallery Piece
        -Touched Something’s Hollow
        -An Eluardian Instance (Pure indie-pop sugar rush throughout)
        -Plastis Wafer (which is absolutely epic … though it does get slightly spazzy at the end. The different sections last pretty long, though.)
        -Id Engager

        If you can appreciate those songs (which, if you’re a fan of “Hissing Fauna,” I would think you would), then that can perhaps help introduce you to the rest of the album. I find that sometimes it’s difficult to get into an album without some good jumping-off points

        And yes I agree–”Satanic Panic” is an awesome album, and “Sunlandic Twins,” although a little uneven, has some great songs on it too (the bonus disc is really good).

  15. This is the album that got me into Liars in the first place and remains my favorite. I played the shit out of it at the music store I worked at, which sold mostly douche rock and bad rap. . .a lot of customers were freaked out by it and I loved it.

    The first time I listened to King of Limbs all I could think was “Broken Witch”!!

  16. You mention that the indie world was a sunnier place in ’04/’05 but have you ever considered why? Bands like Clap Your Hands, Bloc Party, The Futureheads, and so on were catching attention because, much like in the ’80s, we were coming out of a seriously fucked up situation (9/11 for us, crippling recession & various acts of terrorism in the late ’70s for them) and people just wanted to party/dance/enjoy themselves. Fuck, even our President was telling us to not give a shit and just mindlessly spend money we didn’t have. People wanted fun.

    Fast forward 6 or 7 years and now we’re mired in a crippling recession, our economy is being forced to support two relatively unpopular military conflicts, the political situation is as shitty as ever, no one really seems to want to make things better…it’s just a lot bleaker right now. No one is calling for fun; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. The zeitgeist of the times is tending more towards an existenial dread. So I don’t think it’s any coincidence that indie rock now is leaning towards hardcore, black metal, deathrock, goth, noise rock, or industrial; these are all genres firmly grounded in the notion of, “shit’s fucked, man.”

    I don’t think Liars were forward-thinking so much as they were out of time. It had to pretty clear the party was going to end eventually. They were just coming down from the high quicker than most.

  17. Would you be able to post a link to your reviews for Pitchfork and other publications? I know I’ve read a bunch of ‘em, but it’d be pretty cool to see them all in one place.

  18. Great piece. I remember listening to “They Threw Us All In a Trench” obsessively, trying to figure out what Rolling Stone saw in it, and being absorbed in the looping, 30-minute closing track every time. I was admittedly excited to hear “They Were Wrong” expand on that sound (in a sense) with strong results. It’s my second favorite Liars album, behind “Drum’s Not Dead,” of course, but still more interesting to me than the self-titled album or “Sisterworld.”

    Fans of “They Were Wrong” and “Drum’s Not Dead”-era Liars would do good to check out Snowman’s criminally overlooked 2008 album “The Horse, the Rat & the Swan.”

  19. I saw Liars open for Radiohead back in 2008. That was before I ever really listened to any of there stuff, but from what I remember they played “Broken Witch” and “We Fenced Other Gardens…” and people were real into it. It was definitely pretty exciting stuff to be seeing live. I will say, while They Were Wrong was an awesome step away from They Threw Us All in a Trench (and towards Drum’s Not Dead), I think They Threw Us All In a Trench was still pretty sweet and better than some of that other stuff that was labeled dance-punk back in the early 2000s (I’m thinking of !!! and The Rapture in particular).

  20. I’ve never been a big Liars fan outside of DND, but I haven’t heard this one. Sounds like it might be my cup of tea, gonna have to check this out

  21. this album isn’t that unique or relevatory. i like all liars albums equally…this one is just shorter with more instrumental filler. if this is out there…then ur boring.

  22. Now ‘Double Take’ either A.R.E. Weapons Self titled debut or follow-up ‘Free in the Streets’ and give either their proper due. Or can we yet face music with a sense of humour in 2011?

    Boggles my mind how overlooked this band is.

  23. The bad Pitchfork review was what made me buy the album in the first place. I liked it a lot, then I saw the band on that tour and had my mind blown clean. In my opinion, They Were Wrong and Vision Creation Newsun have been the two brightest beacons for forward-thinking and exciting music in the last 12 years. Yeah, I love it that much.

  24. If I remember right, the most traditionally skilled musicians in the Liars left after the first album, so on this one you had three guys who were really into their theme and creating an atmosphere but not so great at writing songs or playing their instruments (and not at all concerned about using production tools to smooth the rough edges). I think that’s why it sounds so different from a lot of other records out there.

  25. great post! their best album if you ask me..

  26. Weird. I’m logging a Liars interview from Feb. 2004 that they gave before a show at Bottom of the HIll in SF. If I remember once I’m done, I’ll come back here and link to it. They spend a bit of time talking about their views on making “difficult” music. Some live stuff follows it. So, yeah, get ready for that. . .

  27. I’m the same way. Loved it from the start. It’s probably tied with Drums Not Dead for my favorite Liars album. Some of the greatest albums are panned/ignored at first, only to be rediscovered as classics years later.

  28. 6 years later, its still gold. And then there’s Drum… I think that was one of the best albums of the decade, and certainly one of the most influential… Cohesive albums that are meant to be listened to from start to finish are such a rarity nowadays.

    music leads. big media follows. sometimes it takes years. Unfortunately, sometimes its not who does it first, its who does it second.

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