For the readers: I’m on a constant search for new ideas and sounds, regardless of genre, whether they come from A Place to Bury Strangers and Grizzly Bear or Madlib and Aphex Twin. The best music for me is when someone is able to make something that’s different and artistically viable yet still remains, at heart, a pop song. I would also kill you if Tom Waits asked me to. These are my thoughts.
0 stars – Complete and utter garbage
1 star – Best just not to ever press play, save your ears for another day
2 stars – Not completely atrocious, but one you’ll probably forget about as soon as it’s over
3 stars – Good, but not great, likely with some excellent songs and others you’ll skip right through
4 stars – Damn good album, one you’ll definitely want to enjoy again and again
5 stars – Instant Classic
While not as large a departure from their previous records (and all records that came before them) as their much hailed 2006 release Drum’s Not Dead, Sisterworld may just be the Liars most uncomfortable LP. I mean that in a good way. I’ll explain.
First, let’s do backstory. Recorded exclusively in L.A., the record reveals and revels in the underbelly of the multitude of separate societies that dwell within its city limits. To use their own press release, they’ve taken “inspiration from fringe characters lured to LA and the resulting subcultures and alternate spaces that they generate.”
What does this mean for us listeners? It means the Liars are going to make you really, really uneasy. While there’s the expected volatile moments of percussion and distortion alongside quiet baritone vocals and ambient sounds, the concept in itself seems to dictate that the songs be jarring and inaccessible. You’re not meant to feel like you belong. You’re not meant to feel like you’re taking part in anything safe or easy to rationalize. You’re hearing the Liars interpret the darker side of Los Angeles – unpredictable, and sometimes frightening.
The album’s lead-off track, “Scissor”, is one of the easiest to wrap your head around if you know something of what the Liars are capable of, but that’s not saying much. The ominous-lament-to-explosive-cry-for-help resembles the vibe of their previous self-titled LP more than anything else on the album, as Angus Andrew croons a modern day murder ballad. By the song’s end, however, we’re left with a feeling of troubled wonder, not sure of what just happened (Did he find her that way? Did he kill her?), and wary of what lies around the corner.
The further you step into this world, the further out of your comfort zone you’re taken. Each track becomes a sublayer of society on display like an 11-track freakshow, but perhaps even stranger still is the empathy they impart towards this “sisterworld”. “No Barrier Fun”, maybe the closest thing to a pop-song on here, romanticizes its character wanting to “make it up” from the underground, enticed to “take a trip upstairs for the footstep girl”. “Scarecrows on a Killer Slant” comes across like a gang of murderous freaks armed with overdriven guitars dancing around a fire inside your speakers, but its hostility might as well be birthed from society’s often-volatile reaction to the aspects of itself it doesn’t understand. (“We should nail their thoughts to the wall/Stand them in the street with a gun/and then KILL THEM ALL”)
In fact, the greatest amount of contempt is present on “The Overachievers”, each verse imparting the story of the stereotypical west coast existence (“We drove a biocar/Cause we all love the Earth/It didn’t get us far/And always sounded like a walrus”) between chants of “L! A! L! A!” and “Help me! Help me!” The only real respite to any hostility we’re given is “Proud Evolution”, a disco-punk-on-opiates track that gives you the first feeling of acceptance on the record, but reminds you “you should be careful.”
What all this results in is, in truth, not a “fun” record to listen to, but it’s also not a record that deserves to be judged as so. The idea behind the concept album is for the songs to have a cohesiveness that imparts an idea or ideology. Sure, Bowie (“of course he’s using Bowie as an example”, said everyone that knows me) could make a concept album that was accessible and fun, but that’s easy when the record’s concept is a character that becomes universally revered. Sisterworld is about a place foreign and intimidating. While it’s not going to be anyone’s spring jam necessarily, it does what it sets out to do, and it does so phenomenally. It is, by nature, difficult to understand, and unnerving because of it. When you go there, you go not to enjoy being in the “alternate spaces” the Liars recreate, but because your morbid curiosity wants to peek in and be disturbed. It’s definitely worth the look.
Note on the chart: After convening with Bradley it was decided Windows Me is by far a worse product than my originally proposed Wii Bowling Ball because, to quote Bradley, “Wii Bowling Ball can do $5k damage to your TV, but Windows Me did uncountable billions of damage in lost productivity”. So there.
Sisterworld is out March 9th on Mute (today!). The Deluxe Edition will feature remixes from Thom Yorke, Blonde Redhead, Bradford Cox, Tunde from TV On The Radio, and others. Which is awesome.