They Were Wrong So We Drowned

(Mute; 2004)

By Amir Nezar | 9 October 2007

Hold on to your pants, kids, because the emperor's coming, and he's naked. He's going to pirouette in front of you, and display for you his big fat ass, and then you're supposed to say, "My, Emperor, the cut of your clothes is exquisite!" Because you ought to, right?

I mean, didn't we all love They Threw Us in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top? I did. It's an excellent album. At the time when this "noisepunk" thing was flourishing, it was a watershed. You remember its livewire bass lines, whipping about with aggressive Idon'tgiveafuckery. You remember its great beats! You shook your ass to that thing, and if there's one great thing in this world, it's shaking your ass.

But alas! The famed rhythm section of once-pioneers Liars has departed since. Perhaps it was because of the reasons that lead man Aaron Hemphill expounded upon. Or perhaps the liquor and lipstick from one Karen O (Aaron's girlfriend, didntcha know!) smeared all over the walls, after angry liquor binges, was too much for bassist and drummer alike. Perhaps it was the fame. Perhaps it was the pressure of recording a follow-up and dealing with the biz that Liars have had to deal with.

Or perhaps (and this is a complete shot in the dark) it was because Pat Nature and Rob Albertson saw the band direction shifting towards something like They Were Wrong So We Drowned, and, realizing what inconceivable shit was coming, up and left.

Now I should hold my horses. This is bitter, mean speculation. I'm sure the parting of ways was cordial, along the lines of what Hemphill explained.

But here I've got this big fat naked emperor in front of me, looking at me like I should approve of his clothing, and I feel like there must be some kind of explanation. Because kids, They Were Wrong So We Drowned is an atrocious, bafflingly bad excuse of an album. When the time comes in the cred-war, you can either side with the music critics who would pretend to "get it" and con everyone into worship, or you can side with me and oh, countless others who'll have enough sense in their heads to abhor this… thing. If any praise comes to Liars for this, watch out for evasive metaphor and empty lauding -- it'll be the easiest way for those critics of questionable worth to try to self-elevate above those who are pretty much befuddled as to why anyone would release such an unlistenable waste of a disc. Let's have the guts to call it like we hear it.

It's already a fairly well-known fact that Liars have never really given a fuck about what anyone thinks, including their fans. At live shows (oh, if only you were lucky enough to see them before they released their debut!), they're notorious for playing everything but what their fans are hoping they'll play. And in more than one interview, Hemphill has frankly admitted that in some ways, he reacts against the band's early success. (So basically, because you liked them before, Liars are going to do everything but what they were doing before. Seems like a grown-up thing to do.) He's also said that Liars just record what they feel like recording in the studio, no planned song-writing or planning, period. And once they make a first recording, they don't really care to improve on it. Either it stays or it goes.

Which suggests to me a gross amount of pretension or immaturity. Or both.

Let me be frank. Included in this sophomoric (used in its proper sense) album, is one decently tolerable track, "Hold Hands and It Will Still Happen" (by which I mean it has a single impressive guitar riff), and the rest is sludgy wankery with disturbing voices. "Broken Witch," for instance, is just simple stuttering percussion, two or three guitar chords, bass blips, and the occasional slowed down synth trill. The drumming gets more intense, but it stops just as the song threatens to get interesting, farting out of existence as a collection of industrial sounds mixed in and out of a meaningless wash. The lyrics are awful. "I no longer want to be a man / I want to be a horse / Men have small hearts / I need a tail." What? I know afterwards they follow up with "tell me a tale," but that's not clever. And then whose bright idea was it to repeat "blood," at the end of each verse? What's the point of that, either? To disturb me? I mean, sure I can give my little brother nightmares with this stuff, but I don't think that qualifies it as passable music. And it lasts over six fucking minutes. I got tired of the chanting after three. As for "Steam Rose from the Lifeless Cloak," it's a single repetitive beat with the occasional novelty synth effect and a guitar that chimes on a single note the entire way through . It'd be easy to come up with justifications for why Liars chose to do such things, but ultimately the sound coming out of the speakers is tiresome, boring, and grating.

Someone will probably try to convince you that "They Don't Want Your Corn They Want Your Children" is a piece of minimalist genius, or perhaps not so bombastically, that it's even a good song. It's got synth bleeps that go up and down, and the bass is, well…but check it out, they use a cowbell - surely they're injecting innovation into dancepunk! Actually, it sounds more like this was what Liars were working on as a kind of weak experiment even before They Threw Us in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top . It lasts less than three minutes, failing to even develop its already weak ideas beyond what seems to be just a sketched out plan. The bass, the wicked bass that I remember from almost two years ago has been thrown out of the speeding car, or more likely, jumped out of the speeding car before it crashed into this mess. What bass work that remains is tamer than your granny on Prozac, watching Matlock. Or sleeping. I don't really mention drums because, well, the drums don't really insist on being mentioned. In fact, they insist on being derided, but I'll restrain myself.

As if to ease the process of you forgetting "They Don't Want Your Corn They Want Your Kids," "Read the Book that Wrote Itself" follows with the most innovative technique I've ever…you know what, I'm tired of being sarcastic. Even on my best day, an album like this would deplete my fullest reserves of it. The track is sampled swishing ocean sounds mixed in with thunderclaps, with abortive monk-choir voices riding atop it. And a pen writing. There's a tribal beat. It doesn't lead to any development. It does carry the remaining ocean-and-thunder, pen-writing, and monk voices out to a misty nothingness. By this point, I believe, you would have wasted almost a half-hour.

In fact, I've been counting the hours that I've spent both listening to and writing different reviews of this album. At this point it's something like ten hours, and the more I listen to They Were Wrong So We Drowned , the more I wish I had those hours back to, I don't know, at least jerk off. Ew, you say? Well, it's better than listening to these guys to do it. And it's free!

Ladies and gentlemen, I give, with the same vindictive pleasure that Liars took in making this album, my lowest rating ever. And my darlings, don't you worry if someone tries to tell you that if you don't like They Were Wrong So We Drowned it's because you "don't get it." Nothing about it is to be "gotten." There's no worthwhile concept to this narrative album about witches, beyond a superficial and ultimately meaningless back-and-forth between the women of the village and the witches of the coven (Liars play the part of the guys who keep the witches away with noise, and believe me, they do it far too well - even worked on me!). There is in fact, on the entire album, one worthwhile guitar riff - and that is far and away overshadowed by all the inexcusable shit that surrounds it, cluttering your brain with mindless and insignificant noise, narratives without purpose (any interpretation of political commentary has been thrown out by Hemphill himself), and, above all, an overwhelming wonder at why, precisely, Liars seem to have such contempt for their fans.

Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems prudent to at least wait until you've released more than one LP before you release your Metal Machine Music. Then again, it seems most prudent not to release a Metal Machine Music at all.