If I told you a year ago Liars would make a song evoking comparisons to Beck, you'd have called me a liar. Or maybe a dick. "Houseclouds," the second track from Liars' self-titled album released last August, is the most extreme example of the band's latest direction, eschewing confounding clatter in favor of more digestible fare. The song's funky drum loop and soulful falsetto left more than a few fans scratching their heads.
"I think 'Houseclouds' is our most experimental song," says Angus Andrew, Liars' unnervingly tall Australian guitarist and vocalist, speaking via telephone from his home in Los Angeles. "Making sounds and using odd structures is way more familiar to us than trying to write a song."
To be fair, the new disc is still plenty radical. The Liars going pop sounds like most bands going snap and crackle. Andrew and his bandmates, guitarist and programmer Aaron Hemphill and percussionist Julian Gross, have made a career of unpredictability. 2004's They Were Wrong, So We Drowned kissed the NYC dance-punk they helped propagate goodbye, coupling caustic industrial drones and electronic noise with thematic explorations of witchcraft and pagan rituals. It jarred fans of their earlier work, notoriously garnering scathing reviews from Spin and Rolling Stone.
The critics came back for Drum's Not Dead, the sprawling 2006 multimedia behemoth recorded in a former East German broadcast studio (at the time, the band lived in Berlin). Hailed by fans as a masterpiece, it came off like a bastard child of early Sonic Youth and Throbbing Gristle. Cavernous, pulsating toms battled guitar skronk in a conceptual struggle between the opposing forces of creativity and self-doubt. Liars had mastered their heady blend of dark, tribal textures.
This meant it was time for another curveball. Liars had a revelation of sorts, wondering if their high concepts were leading the witness. "We felt like it was a good opportunity to make something that was ready to be interpreted on people's own terms, without excessively long titles that led you somewhere before you even pressed play," Andrew says.
The result was Liars, an album with a newfound love of the guitar riff and the hook, a conscious effort to do something with less brain, more swagger. "It led us to think about what it was like to be younger and to appreciate music, and what it was that made you love a song," he continues. "Generally when we thought about that, it wasn't to do with what the song meant, or where it was recorded, or even who did it. It was down to just a guitar solo, or a cool vocal line vague enough to have some sort of resonance with a universal audience rather than just a particular one."
Resonance abounds. "Cycle Time" is a classic rock romp with a blues-riff shuffle. "Freak Out" is a dead ringer for the fuzz-laden pop of Psychocandy-era Jesus and Mary Chain. "Protection" is Andrew's most vulnerable moment yet, a regretful romantic ballad served up over a bed of New Order–flavored synths.
Liars also chose a more standard approach to visuals — Drum's Not Dead shipped with a DVD boasting three videos for each song (one by each Liar). This time they've left directing to directors. "It was a fun project to try for the first the time and give our music out to a director and completely be hands-off with it," Andrew says. The video for "Plaster Casts of Everything," featuring a cameo by Karen O, is a wonderfully disturbing David Lynchian highway nightmare by indie director Patrick Daughters. Sonny Gerasimowicz' video for "Houseclouds," on the other hand, features the trio playing with kitties — but don't worry. There's little chance Liars will ever truly go soft.