Producer: David Sitek, Liars
Cover art: Beate Schlingelhoff-Gross
‘I NO LONGER want to be a man, I want to be a horse,’ Angus Andrew chants on “Broken Witch”, the opening track of Liars’ second full-length album, They Were Wrong, So We Drowned. A statement of intent, this incantation expresses not just a wish for transcendence from humanity, but the band’s messy transformation from your garden-variety dance-punk act into a herd of untamed art-punk weirdos.
They Were Wrong is a horse of a different colour, one that fans and critics could make neither head nor tail of upon its release. Rolling Stone called it ‘an electronic-noise collage that sounds disturbingly rooted in the what-the-fuck? tradition of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music’. But there’s more to the album than merely flipping the music industry the bird. Trading the trendy influences of their first album for the worship of more arcane gods, here Liars dabble in the tape cut-ups of Faust and This Heat, the ritualistic percussion of Einstürzende Neubauten and Flowers of Romance-era PiL, and the abrasive guitars of no wave and early Sonic Youth.
Inspired by the witch trials and folklore of sixteenth and seventeenth-century Germany, as well as being a reaction to the US’s post-9/11 invasion of Iraq, somewhere at the heart of They Were Wrong is a message about ignorance, intolerance, and persecution. Rather than lecturing, however, Liars evoke a mood of insularity and paranoia, revelling in the rustic creepiness and cabin-fever atmospherics that the subject matter invites. Rhythms are broken and irregular, the atmosphere curdled like spoilt milk. TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek helps Liars pull songs from the acrid muck only to submerge them again, doomy interludes with evocative titles like “Steam Rose from the Lifeless Cloak” and “Read the Book That Wrote Itself” wafting by in a flurry of electronic tonalities, cracked beats and muffled sound effects. An unsettling but strangely thrilling feeling permeates, like some infernal Walpurgisnacht rite dimly perceived through the delirium of fever.
It’s not simply Liars’ experimental new direction that makes the album so strange. References to the band’s past create an uncanny feeling: we’ve heard this music before, but it was nothing quite like this. Songs like “We Fenced Other Gardens with the Bones of Our Own” and “They Don’t Want Your Corn, They Want Your Kids” emerge from the production’s gauzy murk, recalling the band’s dance-punk origins but trudging along in an indolent, almost trip-hop daze. Most immediately recognisable and yet disarmingly bizarre is “There’s Always Room on the Broom”: a raucous electro number with a synth line and looped vocal pushed to irritatingly distorted levels, and a chorus sung in a ridiculous falsetto. For such a strange album, They Were Wrong is full of anthemic moments like this. To attend a Liars gig and witness a crowd respond to Andrew incanting ‘Fly fly, the devil’s in your eye, shoot shoot’ by gleefully shouting, ‘we’re doomed, we’re doomed!’ is to experience this album’s curious mixture of absurdity, celebration and dread.
During the witch trials in Germany, a practice called schmiermachen, or salve-making, was a recurring theme in many an accused witch’s confession. The salve, which was meant to help witches perform supernatural deeds such as flying and shapeshifting, was believed to be made from the rendered bones and fat of unbaptised children. Liars made a similar sacrifice on They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, boiling their young sound down to its essence so as to smear it on themselves and be born anew. But the album captures them in hideous mid-transformation: no longer who they were, and yet not quite who they would eventually become. Who said magic was meant to be pretty?
- “Broken Witch” – 6:10
- “Steam Rose from the Lifeless Cloak” – 2:49
- “There’s Always Room on the Broom” – 3:05
- “If You’re a Wizard Then Why Do You Wear Glasses?” – 2:11
- “We Fenced Other Gardens with the Bones of Our Own” – 5:28
- “They Don’t Want Your Corn, They Want Your Kids” – 2:38
- “Read the Book That Wrote Itself” – 3:09
- “Hold Hands and It Will Happen Anyway” – 4:51
- “They Took 14 for the Rest of Our Lives” – 4:09
- “Flow My Tears the Spider Said” – 6:12
Listen on Spotify
Also check out…
- Liars – Drum’s Not Dead (2006)
- Liars – Liars (2007)
- Liars – Sisterworld (2010)
- Liars – Mess (2014)