Three-part a cappella harmony finds itself slowly warmed by spare instrumentation. A bedraggled man, bobbing adrift on the ocean in a yellow inflatable life boat, regains consciousness. The first thing he sees is a black rock. There is no one else with him, no land nearby. He weakly tosses it overboard and closes his eyes for a moment.
When he opens them again, a small pile of rocks has gathered in front of him. After looking around, he starts tossing them out, turning his back briefly. When he turns back, the rock pile has grown so big that it's nearly pushing him out of the lifeboat.
The droning harmonies enveloping one man's voice are quickly overtaken by a brutal ragged wall of synths and drums. The struggling man angrily flings heavy slabs of rock over the side. Realizing that he will sink if he doesn't escape, he sees a sailboat floating nearby. Paddling frantically, he climbs on board to see one corpse on deck and another below in a bunk. A look of confused horror comes over his face.
Seconds later, a smooth black stone comes shooting out of the water, slamming into the deck. The music swells as stone after stone launches out from the ocean, all aimed at the man. A rock hits him in the head, momentarily stunning him. He sees another rock barreling through the ship's window, then ducks.
The song and the barrage of stones both stop. The man uncovers his head, goes back up on deck. A large shadow crosses his face. Terrified disbelief clouds his eyes as a massive boulder in the sky overhead careens at breakneck speed toward the ship.
The man in the lifeboat is lead singer Angus Andrew, a lanky Australian who looks like the love child of Nick Cave, David Johansen, and Stretch Armstrong. The dead men on board are his fellow bandmates, Julian Gross and Aaron Hemphill. And what was just described is the harrowing video for “Scissor,” the first single from Liars' latest album, Sisterworld. It's a video that encapsulates the feel of the album's eleven songs and the band's oeuvre.
Bands who crank out a variation of the same album every few years (cough Aerosmith cough) send me running for the hills. But bands whose shtick is concept albums earn a special place in my heart. Liars is one such band. Originally lumped with other Brooklyn/NYC bands under the lazy label dance punk, Liars soon proved themselves much more experimental than dance punk could ever imply.
Sisterworld is Liars' first album recorded on U.S. soil in its entirety since 2004's They Were Wrong, So We Drowned. That one was made in a cabin in the middle of the New Jersey woods. Sisterworld was recorded in—and is the product of a fascination with—the underbelly of the Bizarro World that is Los Angeles. Eleven songs slip in and out of one another, reflecting the cruel desperation and guarded hope of L.A.
Buoyed by the warble of a guitar that sounds like it's from post-punk 1982, “Here Comes All The People” repeats the phrase “counting victims one by one” over and over. “Scarecrows On a Killer Slant” depicts simple creatures acting on impulsive (and callous) self-interest rather than giving any thought to their peers and surroundings. When asked why, in both cases the only justification is “'Cause he bothered you.” On the other hand, “Proud Evolution” immerses the listener into a guarded transcendence, somehow both hypnotic and hyper-aware. A tiny moment of comic relief comes toward the end with “The Overachievers,” as the subjects of the song sound like the kind of people described by Stuff White People Like.
The two-disc deluxe edition comes with a second disc of remixes, covers, and reinterpretations performed by an impressive roster of artists. It's one thing to have your peers cover your songs. It's quite another when your forebears, oftentimes standard bearers in their genres, cover your songs. Stellar examples include “No Barrier Fun” from Duetonal (aka Alan Vega of Suicide), Tunde Adebimpe's (TV on the Radio) version of “Scarecrows,” and The Melvins' take on “Goodnight Everything.”