“I don’t think I’ve been this scared of a record we’ve made since Drum’s Not Dead, when there was definitely a point where Aaron and I said to each other, ‘Are we really gonna release this?’ …We dropped everything that we had learned on the last couple records and tried to really see what it’s like starting from the other end. That’s always pretty frightening.” So quoth Liars front-man Angus Andrew in a recent interview with Pitchfork, discussing the genesis of their soon-to-be-released sixth album WIXIW. Ironically, in terms of what has come before – bare-bones percussive workouts that sounded like the score for a human sacrifice, brutal chainsaw guitar massacres and dread-filled atmospherics seemingly designed to stop anyone that heard them ever going near the woods again – WIXIW (pronounced “wish you”) is actually the least scary thing the trio have ever recorded. The fear of which Andrew spoke was in fact the product of putting aside the traditional rock band tools and creating music, for the first time, using computers and the kind of processes usually associated with electronic music, no doubt compounded by having their label boss Daniel Miller – a pioneer in that particular field – breathing down their necks at all times in his role as the record’s producer. The nerves don’t show, however: as with all their previous experiments, Liars pull it off brilliantly. Andrew, Aaron Hemphill and Julian Gross have previously dipped toes into the muddy waters of punk, Krautrock, industrial noise and horror-core psychedelia, and WIXIW incorporates elements of all these and more alongside synths and programmed rhythms, and a newfound (and already much-discussed) appreciation for those often overlooked qualities melody and harmony. Don’t let the soothing sunrise tones of opener “The Exact Colour Of Doubt” fool you, though; advance reports that this is a Liars “pop” album have, it seems, been somewhat exaggerated. Admittedly, the textures are smoother, the lines sharper, and it would appear Andrew has been putting in the hours to bring out the richness in his vocals, but the overall vibe is as sinister as ever: “Tie me up in a red ribbon/ Teach me how to be a person” the singer intones over the lurching Can groove of “Flood To Flood.” Replace “be” with “kill” and it gives you some idea of the record’s general ambience. Considerably more justified is the hype around the new electronic sound. Pulling from a variety of sub-genres, WIXIW is bound to draw comparisons to Radiohead’s post-OK Computer output (“Octagon” in particular bears a close resemblance to Kid A’s jittery title track), but whereas the Oxford boys only ever really felt like they were raiding the Warp Records dressing-up box, here Liars sound truly committed. Gently pulsing minimal techno beats and Aphex-like pads drive mellower numbers like “Who Is The Hunter” forward whilst, stripped of its rippling guitars and sighing vocals, “His & Mine Sensations” could pass for a Dial or Kompakt track. Raising the tempo slightly, “No.1 Against The Rush” glides along on a swift motorik breeze and “A Ring On Every Finger” swings hypnotically like some electro death march; more raucous are the title track and “Brats”, which incorporate strobing synths, evil bass-lines, acid house squiggles and – in the case of the latter – a straight-up 4/4 house thump. Impressing their “been there, bought the t-shirt” producer can’t have been easy, but the trio make it seem effortless, even managing to incorporate a spooky, acoustic guitar-led interlude (“Ill Valley Prodigies”) without it sticking out like a sore thumb. One of the few groups to successfully explore new directions with each release, Liars are as hard to predict as the weather, but one thing you can rely on is the fact that they will continue to shock and delight. Sure as ever to divide opinion, WIXIW is their finest album to date, an amazingly assured step into the unknown that not only proves the band can achieve anything they set their mind to, but that they can excel at it too and set the bar a little higher in the process.
WIXIW is out June 4 on Mute