By John Ruscher
Liars is a band in constant flux. After the release of their debut album They Threw Us in a Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top, many hailed them as one of the forerunners of Brooklyn’s dance-punk scene. But the band was unwilling to let this label stick and quickly changed things up. They acquired a brand new rhythm section and released They Were Wrong So We Drowned, which took them in a completely new and unexpected direction. In the place of dance-y beats and Gang of Four guitar lines, there were blasts of noise, chants, and songs about witches. Some people were into it. Others definitely weren’t.
Regardless of the reaction to They Were Wrong, Liars successfully shook a stigma that could have brought them down. Dance-punk is dead, killed by Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, and that Killers record that you can hear blasting from some frat boy’s Jeep. Liars slipped out before the ship started sinking.
Somehow they made their way to Berlin. There they set to work writing and recording Drum’s Not Dead, a carefully crafted album that hones what they established with They Were Wrong, but also leaps forward in its own unique direction.
A look at the liner notes will reveal just how much thought and time the band gave to Drum’s Not Dead. For each song, there are detailed descriptions of the equipment and methods used, from the exact size of the drums and cymbals to the model numbers of amplifiers and effects pedals. The album was recorded in a former radio studio, where the band experimented with rooms of various acoustic dimensions. A DVD included with the album provides three different visual interpretations for every song. All of this careful composition and conception shines through in the final product. Each song possesses the finesse and beauty of a carefully crafted painting and contributes to the overall progression of the album.
Drum’s Not Dead has a theme of sorts. Two main characters, Drum and Mount Heart Attack, represent immediate action and hesitation, respectively. Almost all of the titles name one of these two characters, but the actual story exists not so much in the lyrics, but in the musical representation. The core of the album is not in any verbal tale, but its eerily beautiful and propulsive soundscape.
“Be Quiet Mt. Heartattack,” which opens the album with shimmering guitar, ghostly chanting and plodding polyrhythmic drums, seems like an invocation of what is to come. Things build up to a bellicose, pounding rhythm on “Let’s Not Wrestle Mt. Heartattack.” Songs such as “It Fit When I Was A Kid,” “Hold You Drum” and Drum And The Uncomfortable Can” maintain this propulsive rhythmic vein, while “Drum Get’s A Glimpse,” “The Wrong Coat Mt. Heartattack” and “It’s All Blooming Now Mt. Heartattack” give a more ambient, but no less inspiring, respite from the booming rhythms. It’s easy to become mesmerized by the album, but, as soon as it has lulled you, it will surprise you with spine-tingling screams or a barrage of drums and cymbals. It seems appropriate that the more percussion-based songs reference Drum, while the more ethereal tracks belong to Mount Heartattack.
On “The Other Side of Mt. Heartattack,” which closes the album, Angus Andrews sings “I won’t run far / I can always be found / I will stay by your side/ and I want you to find me.” These words can be taken within the context of the album, as relating to Drum and Mount Heartattack. However the simple and straightforward nature of what Angus sings makes it seem more like a direct statement from the band. Liars seem to be telling us that, though they have gone through many changes and will probably go through many more, they will still the same band. Though they have continuously thwarted and eluded expectations, Liars have consistently put forth cutting edge, inventive music. They will run far, but they will always let us find them, and each time it will be a completely different experience.
John Ruscher is a third-year English major who blasts the Killers because if that’s what it’s all about, then, mama, he’s movin’ out.