After more than a few years of wanderlust that led to two excellent albums (Drum’s Not Dead and Liars), the members of Liars recently decamped in Los Angeles, the city where they met, to cut Sisterworld, their fifth album. For about as long as Liars has been based in Germany, Brooklyn and points beyond, L.A.’s burgeoning noise-rock scene has been sprouting a new band every month that absorbed Liars’ wholesale and spit out new music (HEALTH being the most obvious among them). So it’s fitting that after a move to L.A., Liars’ Sisterworld sounds like it cannibalized the new quirks (factory-machinery synths, lightning-bolt percussion) to create an album that spits the difference between the primordial noise scraping of Liars and the krautrock melodrama of Drum’s Not Dead.
Sisterworld opens with “Scissor,” a brain-stem quaking track that jumps between a balled-fist behemoth of a riff to a moaning, man in the gutter verse. It’s the kind of track that Liars do so well; the discordant portions of “Scissor” allow all the band members to show their goods, with frontman Angus Andrew vamping like a heartbroken cast member of Rocky Horror Picture Show, guitarist Aaron Hemphill beating his guitar into submission, and drummer Julian Gross destroying cymbals with impunity. They nearly recreate the same horror-show blasts of “Scissor” on the nearly as visceral “Scarecrow on a Killer Slant,” which beats HEALTH at their own game.
Sisterworld might be the first Liars album with easy-to-spot thematic cohesion; most of the tracks here have lyrical abstractions about death, dying, suffering and murder, wrapped in noise-rock flareups. But like every Liars album, Sisterworld isn’t all boom and blast; there are a lot of well-crafted quieter moments here, particularly in the album’s back half. The slippery, lock-stepped “Proud Evolution” introduces a tonal shift, which leads to hazy pop experiments like “Drop Dead,” the Black Sabbath-lite throb of “Goodnight Everything” before closing with the theatrical “Too Much, Too Much,” a song that will immediately bring to mind “The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack.” It’s like Liars needed an album in between before they could commit themselves to doing this kind of chilled-out songcrafting, that they just barely started doing on Drum’s Not Dead.
Exile has become so important to how Liars operate that it seems unlikely that they’ll stay put in L.A. for very long. But being based in L.A. is the first time they’ve belonged to any scene that makes any sense; they were too weird to fit in with the dance-punk, new no-wave scenes they got thrown into in New York, and they were too noisy to fit in with krautrockers when they were in Berlin. Via L.A.’s Smell scene, Sisterworld is their first album that fits in soundly with the work of other bands. Whether or not that’s a good thing for Liars is a matter of debate.