Nothing stays the same in the world of Liars. The group is always changing, always moving into new musical territory, always recording albums that reflect new spaces. The last album, Mess, was very much an L.A. record, since it was made there. But things have, as they do from album to album, changed on TFCF. For one, the band itself has changed. Aaron Hemphill has left the band, leaving just Angus Andrew. Andrew made the new Liars record himself back in his home Australia, and the change is clear in the sound. Like every other Liars record, this one sound nothing like the albums that came before it. It uses acoustic guitar heavily, a new path for Andrew, but it hardly settles into some comfortable sonic space. Instead, Andrew uses the guitar to blur lines between the acoustic and the electronic, the organic and the manufactured.
On “No Help Pamphlet,” a murky and beautiful highlight on this record, Andrew sings about a “boundary that we’re bound to cross.” It’s a line that echoes out into the rest of the record in various ways. For one, the music itself often refuses boundaries. Spacious opener “The Grand Delusional” scuffs and warps itself in the middle, melting away from its dark guitar tones. “No Help Pamphlet” falls apart into slowed-down spoken word and eventually crumbles into the haunted electronics of “Face to Face With My Face.” “Staring at Zero” leaves the guitar behind in favor of a desiccated kind of funk, but its layers flake off into negative space whenever you get comfortable. “No Tree No Branch” is the most immediate and driving song on the record, but even that song’s strong hooks and bright percussion break apart into discord.
At every turn, TFCF steers us towards discomfort, and that leads us to another boundary at play in this album: the human skin. This is a deeply anxious record for anxious times, but that anxiety isn’t politic; it’s corporeal. At various turns, the album explores the body. On “The Grand Delusional,” Andrew’s low, wobbling vocals worry over how “they can take our insides.” It feels like one of many invasions here. On “Staring at Zero,” Andrew is calling out for that sort of invasion. “Why can’t you shoot me through my heart?” he sings, not distinguishing between cupid’s arrow and a bullet. On “No Tree No Branches” he turns this invasion of the body on his mind, practically demanding someone to read his thoughts. “If you listen you’ll hear that sound right there in my mind,” he repeats, as if he’s run out of ways to communicate the sound, as if he needs the listener to mine his brain for it on their own. Elsewhere, Andrew looks at the “boundaries” we can put our bodies in, especially those “pre-approved jeans” he sings about in the tongue-in-cheek “Cred Woes.”
The the skin is just a boundary on TFCF, it then also distorts attempts at intimacy. “I think about you all the time,” a voice speaks after “No Help Pamphlet,” but the slowed-down vocals make this declaration sinister and menacing, a message left as its own kind of invasion. And all this symbolic breaking into the body ends up in real betrayal on “Coin in My Caged Fist.” In the album’s most direct moment, Andrew sings “They broke my heart,” circling back to some “they” from the first track. Then he sings, “You turned on me.”
TFCF embodies a sort of anxious isolation, and the music echoes that theme throughout. The songs skitter and scrape, they get hollowed out and distorted. The drum work here is fantastic, adding a rumble to these songs but also a distance. Some of these snares and kick-drums could have been recorded in an underwater tank. But the obscurity of sound, in the wake of the tight neon lines of Mess, marks another twist to add to the ever-shifting Liars discography. It can be a bleak listen at times, but for every scuffed-up shadow and turn to negative space, there’s a song like “No Tree No Branch” or the frenetic “Coins in My Caged Fist” to pull you out. The Liars’ eight record is another great one, another reinvention, and a great first step for Angus Andrew on his own. Everything is the same, and nothing is the same.