Liars, at their start, were kind of an annoying little brother to the rest of the New York bands popping off at the start of the 21st century. They lacked the classic sex appeal of the Strokes, or the obvious rock star power of Yeah Yeah Yeahs. While the Interpol dudes got ever-more grim and dapper in black pinstripes, Angus Andrew would stuff his lanky frame into a smart business skirt and stuff that skirt under a serial killer’s raincoat. As TV on the Radio morphed from a laptop project into a Letterman-friendly anthem machine, Liars were more likely to tear up the things people liked about them, becoming some rougher, more-chaotic version. While constant change is an aspect of the band that’s sold a little too hard, maybe, that intrinsic restlessness does make a new Liars album in 2014 feel like an event while a new Interpol or Strokes record would feel like a punchline. Though they decamped to L.A. long ago, they’re the band from that “New York Is Back!” era who’ve built the best, most consistent body of work.
Their first album, 2001’s They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, ripped through all the basic ideas “dance-punk” had and then got the fuck out, leaving now-defunct DFA bands like the Rapture and especially LCD Soundsystem to keep fleshing it out, making the style, if not big, exactly, then at least bigger. They rejected perfection with its follow-up, They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, an album that was the right kind of reviled—vocal detractors were admitting they effed up within a year. In retrospect, its ugly tribal beats and bleats feel both primitive and weirdly futuristic at an overly polite indie-rock moment that’s left abrasion to hungrier sub-genres. Drum’s Not Dead, their one moment of real critical consensus, is actually some of their least approachable work, a hypnotic ghost-drone concept record about self-motivation. It also holds up very well, maybe because its sounds were never hijacked by lesser bands. (Nothing else really sounds like it, to this day.) Liars, a retreat from chilly precision into eclectic fuzz, was seen as a drop-off in quality, but has aged just as well, especially measured against the glut of lesser noise-pop that flooded the market for a solid two or three years after. Though neither were critically panned, 2010’s Sisterworld and 2012’s WIXIW are pretty underrated, the latter not given enough credit for its bold, psychotic strokes and the former—an understated but assured offering of the sort of handsome glitch-pop that Thom Yorke’s entirely lost the capacity to make—got totally lost in the discussion. So, before we even get to their present work…that’s a solid goddamn career! Since 2001, all they’ve ever done is make a good record every couple of years.