The crushing weight of existence has long been a theme in rock music and Liars work this theme to death with their latest release. Sisterworld, written and recorded in Los Angeles, follows up their critically acclaimed self-titled record with a litany of noisy, brutal tracks that tests the limits of the listener.
Perhaps the most compelling thing about Sisterworld is how it fundamentally deconstructs the genres and subgenres that exist in the L.A. underworld and other music “scenes.” It’s easy to simply go all Pitchfork and start recalling references and obscurities to compare this stuff too, but I think Liars had a greater purpose in mind.
Indeed, Sisterworld’s really about discarding the illusions and influences and “scenes” of our lives.
It is interesting, then, that the act of discarding and of breaking down required Angus Andrew, Aaron Hemphill and Julian Gross to return to the place where it all began. Recording Sisterworld in Los Angeles was most assuredly by design, too, and the band’s understanding of illusory “happiness” in the midst of tragic, depressing circumstances coats each track.
“The earliest seeds of this record grew out of a strong distaste for America’s love affair with positive thinking,” explains Andrew. “How this can make people feel unworthy – full of self-blame for not having the right sunny outlook – and make it easy to develop a morbid preoccupation with eradicating ‘negative’ thoughts.”
It may seem disconcerting to live in spaces of negativity, but Liars aren’t interested in the fleeting nature of false positivity. In placing this record, a concept album through-and-through, into the space of Los Angeles, the band has discovered that many people in the dregs of society live out their days “stranded by positivity.”
Sisterworld, then, is a record ensconced in its environment. Free of trappings and pretensions, amazingly enough, the record starts to soar as it loosens itself from genres and simply exists as it must.
To say that this record is an easy listen would be a lie, but Liars aren’t as distant or difficult a band as many would have you believe. I’ve always found that their accessibility is somewhat startling, even if their song constructions betray convention and even if they choose to ride more complex roads when it comes to making albums.
But Sisterworld is a record for the people. It is a record for the outcasts and for the strange mix of individuals looking for something to free themselves from the constancy of referential living.
The immediate violence of “Scissor,” the opening track, is the first shot of the resistance. Opening with mournful vocals and something similar to a funeral march, the track cuts loose with a bounding, immediate bit of chaos like a runaway train.
“Scarecrows on a Killer Slant” carries similar recklessness, asserting itself as a monstrously chugging tune made all the more menacing by Andrews’ vocals. “Why'd you pass the bum on the street? Cuz he bothered you!” he scolds self-righteously. No worries, though, as “The Overachievers” offers a surf rock rebuttal.
“Drip” is a troubling bit of music, its sparse notes and slow crawl proving both frightening and charming. And “Proud Evolution” is a morose disco-themed treat.
The mood of Sisterworld can be a bit too much to bear at times, but its ultimate pursuit of the real will prove rousing to most listeners. Liars accomplishes something profound with this record, I think, and they manage to move beyond mere lyrics to tell their stories. It is the tone and the temper that does the job more than anything, as the vital despondency of Sisterworld sinks its teeth in and never lets go.