Three dance punks walk into a Brooklyn bar, and the bartender goes, “Hey, where you fellas been?”
You wouldn’t be faulted for forgetting about the great “movement” of 2003, where every band seemed to show some form of Gang of Four influence and every kid all of a sudden started dancing at shows. Because, well, no one had ever moved their ass to indie rock before three years ago.
It sounds asinine because it was. It’s also the reason why it seems like the Rapture put out Echoes about twelve years ago. Simply put, when the press goes out of its way to anoint saviors and proclaim upheavals, it’s exhausting. Sure, some great records came out of that busy time a few years ago, but much like when garage rock took over in the even earlier oughts, no one’s life was changed by the recycling of old sounds. Angus Andrew, Aaron Hemphill and Julian Gross understand this, and after exploding onto the scene with an incidental dabbling in what was crowned the new whatever, they quickly exited for more avant pastures.
To be fair, though, they were too weird for it anyway. Even the last track of the band’s 2001 debut, They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, locks into a repetitive groove for upward of twenty minutes. Those who thought this Brooklyn-based trio would be suckling a bass-ridden teat for much longer were only fooling themselves.
Instead, the band switched around members, turned from critical darlings to outright pariahs in the one fell one-album swoop of underrated noise rock and witch-obsessed adventure, 2004’s They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, packed up its bags and moved to Germany. Makes sense, right?
It does in the world of Liars. Unlike many of their peers who are content to reprocess the past into mediocre modern-day turds with the occasional glimmering peanut, the members of this band fail to see the point in repeating themselves or others. Drum’s Not Dead trades everything you know about Liars for an ominous journey best understood and appreciated through headphones. On paper, and through big speakers, the idea of two characters — Drum and Mt. Heart Attack — battling for ideological ground in some grand optimist vs. pessimist skirmish seems a little overwrought. But when you consider that those characters really do represent the two primary sides involved in creating anything at all, it becomes more interesting hearing them argue.
For example, in “Drum Gets a Glimpse,” the modus operandi is laid out via vocal trade-offs:
“It seems like all our friends have gone,” Mt. Heart Attack says.
“You drove them out,” Drum says.
“Was I naïve to think they’d stay?” Mt. Heart Attack says, self-consciously.
“You were a bore,” Drum says.
Door slams shut, discussion over. Are Liars commenting on a much greater issue in the music world at large? It’s hard to say. But across these creepy, drum-heavy tracks, the three members certainly make a statement, intentionally or not. They seem to say, “We’re going to evolve whether you like it or not. We won’t give you what you need, but it’s possible you’ll end up liking what we provide. Either way, we don’t care.”
It’s true that many of these tracks are not for the casual listener, but that’s also not the point. Along those same lines, excluding nothing extravagant as long as it aids this quest for artistic renewal, the band includes a DVD with three films — directed by Andrew, Gross and filmmaker Markus Wambsganss — that are soundtracked by the album. Each presents a new, sometimes compelling, sometimes boring creative outlet by which to experience the madness of Drum’s Not Dead.
Amid the screaming and the cacophony and the ever-present drums, there is a palpable feeling that the members of Liars are already planning their next step. This sentiment finds fruition in “The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack,” a quintessential Last Song that should stand up proudly next to Brian Eno’s “Here Come the Warm Jets,” if only because it subverts everything that came before it on the album. An almost traditional song of love and longing, the track finds Andrew singing lines such as, “I won’t run far/ I can always be found/ If you need me/ If you want me to stay/ I will stay by your side.”
Based on track record alone, we should know not to trust his words. It’s highly unlikely that he’s indicating anything about the direction the band’s next album will take. It could be pastoral twee pop about as easily as it could be sludge metal, but most likely it will not be something anyone can predict. Rest assured, Drum and Mt. Heart Attack will continue to war within this band’s recorded output, whether they get credit for it or not.
Prefix review: Liars [Fins Make Us More Fish-Like]