In Liferz, Blood on the Wall’s third full-length, Brad Shanks seems reluctant to release his voice. It’s as if he realized something. Where Awesomer (2005) felt his giddy warble fly up from the bass and ride the guitars with centripetal abandon along the music’s blood-brain barrier, Liferz keeps everything close to the body. The spine of the album simply lacks the flexibility that once supported the guitars’ twist and gambol, the jouissance that infused Awesomer‘s half-hour spin with a sprawling feel.
Liferz sports an even shorter runtime than its predecessor, longer tunes, and cleaner production. The bipolar economy of the band’s craft has given way to the stability of a middle ground where tighter control has cultivated a newfound sexual maturity: Courtney Shanks’s voice, once faltering and demure, takes on a seductiveness reminiscent of former tour-mate Karen O, while her brother Brad spends more time skulking in the middle range. The characters they sing about no longer relate as playmates but as codependents and tired lovers (see "Junkeee . . . Julieee . . .").
Not surprisingly, the growth toward self-awareness eventually leads to a concern with religion and redemption. The magma crawl of Liferz starts to recall the classic fire and brimstone of fellow drug-rockers and future tourmates Black Mountain. Perhaps inspired by Stephen McBean’s dark excretions, the members of Blood on the Wall have groped further into the past, beyond college-rock and proto-indie fuzz, for some new influences.
"The Ditch" strikes nearest to the heart of Black Mountain’s aesthetic: Retroactive guitars spiked with Ketamine slow the song’s ’60s twist into a Danse Macabre. Opener "Hibernation" shares a classic Rolling Stones influence as it chugs anthemic before wigging out and tuning down to an introverted sludge. The album’s true manifesto, "Liferz," finds brother Shanks at tea with Ozzy Osbourne, apocalyptic riffs spilling in from the window. Though death and sin have never been strangers to Blood on the Wall, the song’s lyrics drop the alternating sheepishness and bravado of Awesomer’s boyhood: Shanks asks soberly, "Why do yourself in?/ There ain’t no heaven without all of our sins," and then enjoins his audience of burn-outs and corpses to "waste all your wishes before you get trapped in the grave."
Influences like these, combined with a more distilled punk presence, lend the album a (comparatively) "straight up" and uniform feel. Coming off the ebullient experimentation of the last record, one might observe that Liferz relegates its muck-ups and one-off moments to the songs’ intros and outros. Sure, we can mourn the absence of Pavement doodles, acoustic ballads, and shoegazers. Or, we can appreciate a band that’s in it for the long haul — a band whose art claws up from the soil instead of flickering in the air. The ironically titled "Lightning Song" is an absolutely gorgeous trudge with its sump-pump bass and a guitar gone off to wander the industrial end of town, looking for the Promised Land and befriending Coke bottles and pigeons on the way. "Sorry Sorry Sarah" is a solid piece of straight-up grunge in which the listener finds solace in the low huddle of voice and drums and guitar.
Besides, they’re still freakin’ Blood on the Wall: The album retains a repertoire of sucker-punches and ambiguous discharges. In closer "Acid Fight," Shanks’s paranoid, drug-induced ramblings even revisit the ghost of Frank Black. Like the song’s persistent riff, hanging on desperately as its clothes are ripped off and glued on with awkward filters and pedal effects, Blood on the Wall just refuses to die.