Filtering eerie dissonance through a shifting series of themed backdrops, Liars have established a successful formula for churning out fascinating albums. Using locations (Berlin, Salem, the New Jersey Pine Barrens) and concepts (the companion art project of Drum’s Not Dead) as anchors, they keep their sound familiar but also in a constant state of mutation, a method that makes them the shadowy cultists to Animal Collective’s pagan revelers.
WIXIW doesn’t have as distinctive a hook as 2010’s Sisterworld, with its warped inversion of L.A., but its perhaps even more successful in its creation of a sinister mirror world. The new element introduced here is electronics, presented in patterns that recall the mannered regularity of krautrock, which finds the band messing with solid lines rather than fragmented tape-loop structures. Like Kraftwerk and Faust, Liars seek to make organization alienating, exploiting an illusion of order to seed sonic chaos.
In this atmosphere of carefully plotted dissonance, singer Angus Andrew’s voice is again employed as a distancing agent, worming into the empty spaces between notes, exploiting these gaps to enforce an air of loneliness and unease. The slithery crawl he affects on “No. 1 Against the Rush” both fits the song’s lush textures and steadily undermines them, leading to something that’s both oddly beautiful and decidedly ominous. He finds similar crags to explore on “Ill Valley Prodigies,” which overwhelms its distant drum beat with jagged piles of tape hiss and found sound.
As always, there are moments where the band’s familiar tools threaten to turn into tired affectations. Childish rhymes are used for creepy effect on “A Ring on Every Finger,” a choice that mirrors much of They Were Wrong So We Drowned—specifically the invocation of Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven” on “Hold and It Will Happen Anyway.” On that album, however, the repetition and curdled cuteness were used as incantations, steadying the rickety sprawl of the music while slowly gaining in power and force. Here the crude rhymes act as a static midpoint between circuitous drum-machine beats and the squelching electronics that menace them.
So while the band still plies a similar style of dissonant repetition, they’ve found yet another way to transmute it, without traveling to Vienna or Dusseldorf for inspiration. They continue to manufacture a stylish brand of unease, coming up with subtle variations on their formula that assure that each album is an entirely new venture, leaving WIXIW pulsing with strange, inimitable energy.