The Liars’ debut is an exciting mix of audacious punk rock stammering held together by such disparate art-rock nomenclature and tendencies as vocal transmutation, discordant climaxes and ironic herky-jerky rhythms. Just when it was getting safe to venture onto the dance floor, this band (initially, two Nebraskans and two So Cal art students) boldly and skillfully mish mash angular punk stridency with crazy but regulated backbeats; soulful, churning bass, and masculine, ambitious bridges that link, philosophically if not successfully, the Minutemen with George Clinton. (Not that there was much distance to begin with.) An aesthetic that takes chances and relies upon the picturesque grandeur of memories from 1980s bands from Leeds and Cleveland succumbs to self-referential silliness on the final track of the otherwise brief and concise They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top: the 30-minute experimental, teeth-gnashing howling should have been named “The Music That Drives Nice Listeners Insane” instead of “This Dust Makes the Mud.”
The Nebraskans left and the Liars, by then based in New York, became Aaron Hemphill and Angus Andrew with the help of the drummer Justin Gross. Learning to trust one another, they made the clever, scary and more mature follow up, They Were Wrong, So We Drowned. It offers stripped- down instrumentation and a clearer lyrical thrust, even if the subject matter seems to be about spooks and sorcerers running rampant through thick Teutonic forests. The musical simplification can be attributed, at least in part, to producer and mixer Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio, a band also known for aggressive collage techniques. Less punkish than its predecessor, the Liars’ second effort, although marred by Wagnerian excess, lyrical inanity and overlong atmospherics, is still a record of non-commercialized large beats and immense technical skill. This band is never thoughtless.