Examining what’s left of the early-2000’s post-punk revival, it’s surprising to think Liars are having the last laugh. After all, so much of their career has been spent trying to deny their role in it. First they fled New York for Berlin, and then left Berlin for Los Angeles—which they’ve also found reason to dislike. But despite their best attempts to escape description and re-invent themselves on every album, they’ve forever been held together by a spindle of tension. There’s conflict and disorder everywhere; and while many of the post-punk revivalists sought to celebrate it, Liars spent their first five albums seeking out confrontation and catharsis. Each of their records required different genre tags, but they all accomplished the same thing.
And you’d think WIXIW (pronounced like “wish you”) would be the point at which it finally catches up to them. On their sixth LP, the trio’s proud isolationism led them to a genre of music in which they are obvious amateurs—electronic. But instead of outing them as novices, their bewilderment of the medium only adds to the discomfort within the record.
“No.1 Against the Rush” moves steadily through what sounds like a cavernous expanse, with harmonics replacing the sound of falling sewage. And while “WIXIW” starts with an obtuse-sounding organ chord, it slowly rounds into an aching siren. It doesn’t matter how well they understand their instruments, because their grasp on songwriting has eclipsed material factors.
The hook on “Brats” flirts with awkward disco-punk, but even that sounds like the kind of discordant riff that made Liars such a celebrated outfit. In reality, it’s the closest they come to a cathartic element on the whole record—and more than their instruments, that is what makes WIXIW truly different from the rest of Liars’ catalog. Once walking a tightrope of tension and release, they’ve lost all of the latter in order to celebrate the former and how it exists in an endless cycle.
The palindromic nature of WIXIW is meant to symbolize the ways we tend to end up back where we started. Vocalist Angus Andrew addresses this most directly when he repeats “You’re no better than you were” on “A Ring On Every Finger.” The title could be a statement about a successful athlete, or it could be anything else that ascribes value to superficial aspects; but when paired with the record’s ostensible pronunciation, we get the sense of an unattainable glory. Throughout WIXIW, Andrew chases item after item, looking for the one that will finally provide him peace. It never comes, making the record’s lack of catharsis a grand statement about humanity’s insatiable appetite for abstract concepts that will never materialize.
No question, this can make listening to WIXIW feel like a test. In some ways it is—just like in their 2010 record Sisterworld, they’re asking us to enter a realm whose sole purpose is to make us feel uncomfortable. Ultimately, the amount of enjoyment you’ll take from WIXIW will depend on how much you enjoy dwelling in the steady drone of discomfort and misery. At best, this would spark an awakening that provides the catharsis for yourself. At worst, WIXIW is an impressive statement by a band that regularly seems several steps ahead of their peers.