Liars are a band known for change—their style of music shifts as rapidly as their band members do, from punk to rock to electronic and back. They tell stories, change paradigms, and utilize new and exciting instruments. Though several of their albums have received Pitchfork’s “Best New Music” tag, they’ve notoriously received bottom marks from Rolling Stone and Spin. They never fail to impress or at least surprise.
“Mess” is no different. It’s striking, in a word. The songs fluctuate between ethereal calmness and a jubilant, if stressed and anxious, pulsating rhythm. Most tracks are robotic in nature, their sounds made up of inhuman shouts and sounds that seem to come from a synthesizer rather than a guitar or drums. Yet the album is human, its arc seemingly that of an individual on the road to discovering himself.
This could be due to the band’s mastery of electronic music with this album. Where their last, “WIXIW,” launched the trio into the territory of electronica, this album seems to bring that endeavor home. Every song, whether fast-paced or pulsating and slow, is made up of a well-executed electronic hook and background noises which are both alien and inhuman.
“Can’t Hear Well” repeats the same wave-like synthetic sound throughout, but the result isn’t boring or overdone—it simultaneously draws listeners in and repels them. The voice that speaks over the music is distorted to the point of incomprehension, its intonations muddled and robotic. The only truly decipherable lyric intimates, appropriately, the song’s title. “Can’t hear well,” says the voice near the end of the track, and the listener can’t help but feel that band itself, or the creature at the heart of the album, feels this way—confused, misunderstood, and lost in the void of the music. The track is, after all, at the middle of the album and the sometimes-disjointed journey.
But this sense of confusion quickly becomes the soul of the album. “Mess” begins with a muddled voice that intones, “Take my pants off. Use my socks. Smell my socks. Eat my face off. Eat my face off. Take my face. Give me your face.” By the end, that voice has been refined, a clearer version of itself that seems to be from the Twilight Zone. “Say the word limb. Say the word name. Say the word limb. Say the word shout. Say the word sound. Say the word mine. Say the word die. Say the word limb.” This is all said as though in the middle of a medical test or a psychological evaluation, like something has been born and must be checked for errors.
The aesthetic of robotic life-giving is furthered by the album’s colorful artwork. What seems to be an electric fan is draped with a rainbow of colored yarn which, one can imagine, would spring to life as the fan is turned on. This is the feeling of many of the more exciting songs on the album, such as “Mess On A Mission.” The track is set to a fevered rhythm and the singer utters, “Facts are fact and fiction’s fiction” before launching into a wild, repeated shout of “A mess on a mission.” The track also features the album’s most clear and prominent lyrics, intoning “Cast out of culture... / Trash the book, the film, fell face off.” Perhaps this is the band’s own self-reflection on their mission and their art—remote, revolutionary.
If so, it is an appropriate anthem for a band like Liars. Having recreated themselves time and time again, each album a new sound, a new experience, and the creation of a new artist, the band cements its place in music through the highly self-aware “Mess.” Not only have they successfully transformed themselves again, they will revolutionize their music over and over—a mess that is constantly shifting itself. Liars have proven themselves a band on a course of creation, destruction, and recreation.