Two states of creative consciousness exist: one is a land free from the anxious oppression of doubt and fear; the other is a realm plagued by the cloudy, lingering ghosts of self doubt and uncertainty, and the crippling sensation of hesitation. When both realms collide, it creates a sonic din akin to eight million hearts pulsing, lightning repeatedly crashing into a storming ocean, and the friction of pulsating percussion. That sound is Liars.
Their new album, Drum's Not Dead (Mute), finds the unconventional three-piece breaking out of the pigeonhole of Williamsburg art-rock royalty. Since the release of their 2003 debut, They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, the band had already pared down from four people to three; their present line-up is singer Angus Andrew, multi-instrumentalist Julian Gross, and guitarist/drummer Aaron Hemphill. And whereas their last release, 2004's They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, was a meditation on magic, written in the forests of New Jersey, Drum's Not Dead soundtracks Liars' recent relocation to Berlin, a move that has precipitated a redefinition of their sound while blasting all that's lifelessly predictable, one track at a time.
Drum's Not Dead tells the tale of two fictional characters, Drum and Mount Heart Attack. Drum represents the impulsive, creatively assertive side; Mount Heart Attack, Drum's mortal enemy, is a distressing obstacle that stands in the way of progress. It's a meditation on starting over and dealing with loss, with more structured, driving songs than on previous efforts. "The last album was really strong on the conceptual side," explains Andrew in the midst of an extensive European tour. "On this one, we didn't talk about it that much. It had no framework. We just had time to make music on our own and explore more of the personal side, rather than subject matter we agreed on beforehand."
Should this soundtrack of penetrating, head-stomping drum patterns; hellfire drones; and sinister, cult-like chanting not be enough stimulation for you, Drum's Not Dead also contains a DVD with "three visual versions of the album," videos that represent each member's take on every track. "As artists, we should be making albums that are more worthwhile to buy," says Andrew. "In this day and age, it requires more than just 12 songs and a slip of paper. I think we need to step up to the plate a bit more."
Mirroring the band's insistence on challenging their listeners and themselves creatively, Andrew explained that the move to Berlin became a tool for crafting an album rich with rhythmic discomfort and internal strife. "This record has a lot to do with the displacement, isolation, and alienation that you get from moving to a foreign place," recalls the articulate frontman, who grew up in Australia. "After living in America for 10 years, I started to freak out and feel like I needed to move somewhere else. There's a different political and social climate [in Germany], especially in Berlin. They're particularly adamant about not being fascists. It's a nice change from the United States."
According to Andrew, the album also represents a release of last year's tension between bandmates. "There was a point where Aaron, our guitarist and drummer, was contemplating leaving the band somewhere in the middle of 2005 to go back to school," he recalls. "It was a tough period for both of us in terms of figuring out where we were going to go and what we were going to do. Eventually he changed his mind and got back on board and we got the album together."
Through all of the anarchic moves and dislocating struggles that have permeated Liars' past, they've let life's tumult transform them into one of the most profoundly genre-bending bands to date. "I think we're generally considered a New York band, which is fine," says Andrew. "I just think that the particular type of sound that we were categorized with early on was a little small. We've had the chance since then to show that we have other things to offer, you know?"
Yes, we know.