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Liars - "TFCF" | Album Review


by Rob Cleveland

When I was younger, my older cousin lent me an album called They Were Wrong So We Drowned. His mission was essentially—to Frankenstein a philistine. So I watched The 400 Blows, I read As I Lay Dying, and I listened to They Were Wrong So We Drowned. Much to his chagrin—and I’m sure he’d appreciate that kind of language—I hated the shit out of that album. His response to my premature evaluation: “Cousin Bobby, you are fucking up!”

It’s true… I was foolish, and my predilections were garbage (at such a tender age). After a while though, that dose of bizarre, difficult, dissonant, euphoric and hysterical energy brought forth by Liars, witched me in with its craze, and beat me over the head. If you’re someone who can’t laugh at the onslaught of sentiments uncorked at the refrain of “I, I AM THE BOY/ SHE, SHE IS THE GIRL/ HE, HE IS THE BEAR/ WE, WE ARE THE ARMY YOU SEE THROUGH THE RED HAZE OF BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD,“ Well then, I’m afraid we can’t be friends.  

I went to the secret Liars show earlier this month at Alphaville in BK, and they closed with “Broken Witch.” Angus Andrew commanded the stage without pause, periodically convulsing into the microphone one minute, while calmly brooding the next. Surprisingly, the crowd was rather tepid, considering that a healthy batch of Liars tracks, never before heard in a live setting, were delivered that night. For a full rundown of the warm-up show, including the set list (chock-full of classics) and the hilarious Lana Del Rey hoax, please visit BrooklynVegan

Sadly, I’d never seen them perform in their salad days, but here’s to a cousin who played hooky in order to buy the unlawfully loathed period piece by Liars:

“My friends and I skipped school the day They Were Wrong So We Drowned came out, so we could drive to Philadelphia and buy it. We all loved the shit out of that record and loved it even more because it was so reviled. Saw them tour that record twice: Once prior to its release (and it was a 3pm show) and another just after. The drummer, Julian Gross, came out on stage in his underwear, stood in front of the crowd and proceeded to lustily pull baby carrots out of them. Holding his arm out in front of him and letting the carrots roll off, Gross offered, ‘Here’s some carrots.’ It may have been a short skirt though. I have the pics of this show in a shoe box at home.”

Angus Andrew comes clean in a recent interview with SPIN: “If it’s not scaring me, I haven’t really tried something.” The spirit of Halloween hasn’t been warded off yet, either… Have another look at the album cover. Andrew is having his cake and eating it too—a garish stint at what I can only assume is a poorly attended wedding reception, in a diner adorned with ludicrous font and a second-rate cake. He is joined in holy matrimony, together, with himself. Liars may be survived by Andrew alone, but make no mistake—he keeps their name.  

TFCF (aka Theme From Crying Fountain) marks the first record without Gross or Hemphill. Andrew returned to his home in Australia in order to write the songs in solitude, also prefacing a whirlwind of life events encircling him at the time: “As an aside, part of the reason I moved to Australia was that my dad was in his last year of life, and I went there to spend that last year with him. For part of the time that I was writing the record, I was living with him. I was also having a baby when I made the record. So there was a lot going on emotionally for me that made the whole process very personal for me.”

Instrumentation wise, Andrew explains in an interview with Exclaim!, “The structure and the movement of TFCF are influenced largely by the discordant rhythms of nature. The movement of water, the wind in the trees and the sounds of wildlife." For this, Andrew utilized field recordings of sounds from “the bush.” 

The record kicks off with “The Grand Delusional”—an opener that begets Andrew’s new brand of sad beast-pop. Signature falsettos, reminiscent of “Scissor,” initiate the album’s lamenting ruins, reaffirming Andrew’s rightful heir to Liars’ grievous throne. Droning on with rumination, Andrew addresses a hollowed out feeling present throughout: “They can take our insides,” he decries. Like a grim fortune, he bemoans “…with an arm’s length,” as if to say the worst can happen without a moment’s notice. The track then unfurls with a chopped and screwed breakbeat, launching into a showdown of gloom. 

The unique sprawl of acoustic and electronic instruments serves as a meditative fixture in Andrew’s songwriting process. Dadaistic tendencies flood the record with fractured melodies, splicing gloomy samples with strings, psychobabble, stormy drums, piano, sparse electric guitar, rich synth textures, deep bass, aerodynamic noise, white noise, organ stabs, and yelps of mercy (to name a few). Vast chords are struck on TFCF, ranging from macabre, ghoulish, and frenetic—to tranquil, sparse, and delicate, with pockets of regality and room for hilarity towards the end. 

“Cliché Suite” adds a dark ceremonial hint of monarchical poise, as if to mock and/or welcome Andrew’s new widower stripes. The beast grows self-conscious on this track, grumbling, “Can anybody see me?” Scratchy, off beat hi-hats enter, following the gloomy, wandering synth bass, while more percussive stabs interject, making a toast to the beast’s coming of age tale (tail?), fraught with dread and hoping for “A new person tomorrow.” 

“Staring At Zero” is another tenebrous track shadowing the beast’s tenuous musings: “Why can’t you shoot me through my heart?” Tension builds, relinquishing all dread before bleeding into the next track.

“No Help Pamphlet” is perhaps one of the most iridescent songs Liars have ever written. Propelled by an odd time signature, and swung gently, like a pendant up above, we get a moment of solace and blessed relief: “It’s a boundary… that we’re bound to cross,” he sings in a manner of confession. It seems to be about getting over something and starting anew, or at least desperately wanting that, despite our counterintuitive tendencies: “People in strings that we never untie/ Walk in reverse so we’re always there/ Try to explain but the train never stops for us.” 

Not before long, the clumsy beast returns with a stalker-esque voicemail that calls to mind Frank Zappa’s “The Central Scrutinizer,” on a creepier level. “Face to Face With My Face” is a timestamp indicating that we’re now about halfway through the LP, and still it feels like dream state. Side note: The combination of glitchy, distorted drums, static, and glistening organ registers sound like Kanye West’s “On Sight” and Radiohead’s “The Gloaming” met up for drinks before an A-list party.

“Emblems of Another Story” is perhaps the most anthemic track, starting at a slow crawl, ending with bustling drums to the tune of “Every time you call/ I’ll take it back.” Woozy synths glide along the edges of desperation, and a fake roll call ensues at the end: “Artoshias Jarboshian? Here!” Moments like these provide levity to an otherwise heavy and densely layered album with themes of loss and rebirth. “Cred Woes” is another song that takes a break from the grave to dance around and come out on top, with a heavy guitar line that inevitably sounds like “My Sharona” by The Knack. Does it gain anything from moments like these? Hell yeah! It’s hilarious… And humor belongs in music. Curveballs like these allow you to zoom out and gain perspective on the spookier parts. “Cred Woes” then has a reprise of sorts of “Staring At Zero,” at the end there, referencing a more severe moment in time.

What’s left? “No Tree No Branch” is harmoniously out of tune and occasionally out of touch with time—you’ve got rambunctious drums where the hi-hat doesn’t always line up on a cracked out disco beat, and a ragged piano whose delayed Major key challenges the dissonance of feedback from guitars in minor that come in lieu of happy go lucky melodies. The lyric “Well if you listen you can hear that sound right there in my mind, tonight” torments the listener with its intentionally menacing refrain. The tune knows no boundaries, but here’s what Andrew has to say about that: “Songs like ‘No Tree, No Branch,’ when I was mixing it, people heard it and were like ‘This is not in time! It should be in time!’ And I’m like, ‘It doesn’t need to be!’”

That’s the madness and magic of Liars’ spirit, right there! “Coins In My Caged Fist” makes a triumphant return to Liars’ freneticism, with its 5/4 time signature, vanishing in a raucous wormhole of rapturous guitars and heavy synth-bass. The urgency is instantaneous, and a knot in the fabric of time is about to come loose. The next couple of tracks “Ripe Ripe Rot” and “Crying Fountain” serve as darkly outros, back to back, with Andrew going on record saying “And it’s time again, to let go,” before the album closes with such grace.

Ok. That’s it. Those are all the songs I really like.