By Dom Sinacola | 5 May 2010
When last I reviewed Liars (2007), I described the band, now looking back, as having one foot in the grave. They’d gotten to the point where experimentation, shifting styles, playing around with their characteristic sound—the kind of stuff most bands struggled with throughout their whole careers— had became dull, rote, and, worse, seemingly governed by the critical kingmakers that surrounded them. I realize I’m talking in black and white, and that the truth about this band and how their sound has evolved up until this point, here, with their fifth album called, predictably and slightly uncomfortably, Sisterworld, involves many shades of (to borrow from 2007, as this album so loosely does) pee green. But what I am talking about is how Sisterworld is more than just alright or kinda good—it’s good. Or at least “Scissor” is, and “Scissor” goes a long way to help explain what’s happened in the last three years.
I sense a band now comforted by their art and their music and the sometimes painful cross-section of the two, instead of a band before branded and stymied by what it was turning out they’d been working on for the past decade. If you may remember, Drum’s Not Dead (2006) cast two characters, Drum and Mt. Heart Attack, as opposite poles in the wide magnetic field that was Liars’ appeal. At a time when they were still reeling from all the negative press surrounding their first post-Pitchfork (coined!) spree of weirdness, DnD revealed the three core members shaken and confused as to where they should be taking this project of theirs. At one end was Drum, this attitude of relentless mutability regarding what it meant to be “the Liars,” and at the other was the very palpable notion of failure (Mt. Heart Attack), of critical disgust, dooming a band’s livelihood despite their prolificacy and ambition. I imagine this band, knees bent, sobbing into the ceiling tiles, desperately asking the cosmos what it is that’s required of it. Sisterworld gets off its haunches, gets rid of Mt. Heart Attack, gets rid of the obligation I remember dripping from every track of Liars; this album is catchy, deeply tactile, interesting, a bit loose and a bit stifling, pretty dour, once or twice plain boring, and very much the same thing throughout. In short, it’s the perfect Liars album.
And “Scissor”: everything about it is so simply, personably, engagingly likable—even when it writhes and spits up on itself, when seething, spacious chamber pop floats unawares into a brash, hammering chorus and that happens something like three of four times, even when the song’s blueprint turns out to be the rest of the album’s blueprint, it’s all entirely bereft of formality and doubt, as if the band members are finally getting around to liking what they do. It’s infectious, as is “Scissor,” and “Scissor”’s video (below)—it’s infectious because it doesn’t seem entirely concerned with how it’s perceived. As far as it is concerned, it’s already pretty obvious with its dynamic; soft then loud then soft then climatically loud again: there isn’t much to misinterpret. If only the band could have been this straightforward this sooner. And not for our sakes.
Sisterworld, lest you stay alarmed, is still as poured over, as conspicuously manicured and put together as ever: “No Barrier Fun” is a tensely balanced paean to all things sounding sepia-tinged and nebulously creepy (with a sweet little bounce); “Here Comes All the People” is as sprawling as its purportedly nine-month gestation period implied (and matures as patiently); and a spry, brief thing called “The Overachievers” or maybe called “Scarecrows On A Killer Slant” sloppily hops in to scare the many carefully laid pieces into a fucking panic. Plus “Goodnight Everything” and “Too Much, Too Much” bring all to a sufficiently pleasant and—dare we admit it—twinkling close.
Which is how Sisterworld feels so wonderfully full and purposeful, and which is in turn why I’m glad I gave this band another chance at…well, being this band. Their fifth album is still slowed to a mule’s struggling pace by nasty and uneventful come-downs (“Drip” or “Drop Dead”), and the band will surely never be able to banish the ghosts of their tenuous acclaim, but as far as sounding finally, thankfully revitalized by their obvious talent and ravenous taste in all shapes and colors of music, Sisterworld is the most refreshing thing I’ve come upon this year.