The Indie Equation

The Unholy Marriage of Music and Math.


Equation #40: Liars

Simulcast on


There’s always some guy in the music scene who likes the bands that no one else can stand. They hover around used record shops that deal in godforsaken albums that consist of 65 minutes of a guy hitting a steel garden shed with a baseball bat. These ‘hipsters’ call it ‘avant-garde’ when it’s really just a bunch of dudes smashing things with random farm implements while doped up on goofballs. However, while this guy may be a strange and frightening animal, don’t discount his theories outright because there’s a wide world of sounds out there and, by-god, not all of them sound like a million Amish nightmares screaming in unison. My first run in with a guy like this came about 10 years ago, while I was in high school. I was still listening to crappy bands like 3 Doors Down and Matchbox 20, you know “deep, edgy” rock. This was a guy in my drama class who was already excelling in his quest to be a 17 year old burn-out; shaggy hair, pale, skinny-legged jeans and a perpetual thousand-yard stare. We got into a conversation about music one day and he insisted that all the music I liked was terrible and if I wanted to really hear some deep shit I should listen to Ween. He was so adamant about this that he let me borrow The Pod and told me I would love it and that it would change the way I looked at music.

Well, he was half right. I took the CD home, popped it in and got about 60 seconds into “Strapon That Jammy Pac” and called bullshit on his so-called musical expertise. I thought he was playing a joke on me. I mean, who listens to an hour and twenty minutes of this whacked out, lo-fi madness and can still manage to put his shoes on the right feet? Eight years later I would come to love about half of The Pod and everything else by Ween. Who knew? I think I owe that guy a beer.

The point behind that delightful and not-at-all-irrelevant anecdote is this: just because it doesn’t sound musical at first listen doesn’t mean it’s not music. And a second point: it took a while, but eventually I became one of those guys who occasionally use the term “avant-garde” in the same sentence with ”deep shit.”

Case in point: Liars. A band with a reputation for not giving a fuck about what you want to hear; they make whatever the hell kind of music they want to make, and those tuned to their wavelength know it for the avant-garde, deep shit that it is. And to hell with everyone else. Liars enjoy the kind of fame that actors like Gary Oldman and Geoffrey Rush do; they’re underrated. Just as you’ll never see Gary Oldman on the cover of Us Weekly, so will you never see Liars on TRL or shilling ringtones on Myspace. And that’s fine, because Liars are fucking above the hype, man. Their previous releases have been called “dense” and “difficult” and “what-the-hell-are-we-listening-to?” due mostly to their constant reinvention of their sound and disregard for convention.

For their eponymous fourth release Angus Andrew (vocals/guitar), Aaron Hemphill (percussion/guitar/synth) and Julian Gross (drums) spent time recording in LA and in Berlin, two vastly different musical and cultural scenes. The result is predictably unpredictable experimental rock that’s shed much of the harsh and frigid influence of Neu!-ish acid-damaged trudge and the haunted incantations of last year’s Drum’s Not Dead. However, fans of pan reverb and crazy, metallic panging noises won’t be let down; their stint in Berlin produced quite few tracks that would go over great at your next art department black turtleneck party. That said, they have brought back some of the warmer, but still fractured, ’60s feedback rock a la The Stooges or The Fall’s messier stuff that was part of their sound in a previous incarnation. The album kicks off with a rousing, dizzy stomp called “Plaster Casts of Everything” that breaks the ice by hammering you repeatedly in the forebrain with a crash cymbal. After you’re sufficiently softened you’re treated to the laid back, Queens of the Stone Age-esque backbeat of “Houseclouds,” which is one of the only tracks on the album you’d play for someone you didn’t want to confuse or insult. It’s skipping snare, drowsy melody and smooth pace make it a surprisingly “normal” (see: not typical Liars) song that actually goes down easy. “Sailing to Byzntium” is a slumping, trip-hoppy lament that is as good as anything that’s come out of the Bristol scene in years.

As my old burn-out sensei would have said (had he not had his lips wrapped around a makeshift Coke can bong), defying convention is a necessary element in keeping modern music vibrant. Amid a self-importantly hip sea of bands that simply rip off the past, Liars cultivates, improves and mutates the time-tested methods of feedback, reverb, and stripped-down production to evolve noise rock and, yes, the avant-garde, while still maintaining a relevance and general appeal. Their power lies not in their ability to create music that can clear out a party or bring small children to shuddering tears, but in their constant reevaluation of what music can be. So while Liars’ music may not always be an easy listen, as long as they’re committed to shunning the status quo they will always be making music. And those of us who dig those avant-garde rock sounds will be happy.


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