(Random Conversation is a feature where two or more of our writers have a conversation about, get this, a subject! Today’s subject is the band Liars, who have just released a new album, TFCF — their first in three years AND their first as a solo project for frontman Angus Andrew.)
We got the new Liars album a few days ago (TFCF — if you weren’t aware), and I love it but I’m also having trouble parsing my feelings about it. You and I are starting this conversation on a Friday, and I was supposed to email you on Wednesday. That’s not because I’m lazy. I’m just unsure of what I think.
It’s almost easier when a Liars album goes in a completely new direction, but TFCF really touches on many of the things they’ve already done. I’ve been thinking of it as WIXIW mixed with Drums not Dead mixed with that song “Protection” off their Self-Titled album. Maybe a little Mess is thrown in there. It’s a hard album to pin down.
Maybe you have had an easier time figuring this thing out. I certainly hope so or the TFCF part of this article is going to be something like, “I like it.” “I like it, too.” Okay, bye.” Save me here. What did you think about TFCF? Maybe I’ll have an easier time playing off of that.
This probably isn’t going to be much help because I’m not entirely sure what to think either. That’s not exactly a bad thing though. I’ve been listening to Liars for a long time and even at their most predictable there has always been something oddly unique about their music.
With Liars its never really a question whether an album is good or bad, its about where they’re trying to take us and if we’re willing to go.
Ha! Well, that’s no help at all! Maybe it’ll help if I try to process out my thoughts on the fly here, and you tell me if any of what I’m saying makes sense.
Your last point is a good one. A Liars album is going to be good. They’ve never made a bad album, right? So the remaining questions are:
- How good is it in comparison to their previous albums?
- If it’s a given that the album is good, then where are they taking us?
My initial reaction to this album is that it’s their creepiest to date. And this is a band who wrote a concept album about witches. This is a band who said the words, “GIVE ME YOUR FACE!” in the opening few lines of an album. Creepy is their bread and butter, but maybe now that Angus Andrew is the lone member of the band, he’s doubling down on the creepy.
And yet, TFCF also has the contradictory element of having some of the softest, most understated and melodic songs of any Liars album.
Songs like “No Help Pamphlet” and “Emblems of Another Story” are among their prettiest songs. And yet a song like “Face to Face With My Face” sits between them as a creepy interlude.
It all works. Individual songs are seemingly at odds with each other, but the album as a whole doesn’t feel at war with itself when you listen to it straight through. TFCF manages to flow perfectly even as I puzzle over what the big picture might be. That’s what I can’t wrap my head around — this second question: where is this album taking us? What’s the big picture?
Break it down for me — tell me what the big picture is here. Am I on the right track?
I don’t think Liars, or Andrew, knows himself, and that’s the one element that stands out on TFCF. It truly is an experimental piece.
Obviously all Liars records experiment but as they run thier respective courses, they make sense in their own weird way. I tend to like their rock flavored output for example. That in itself says they made at least a few albums with that direction. This record really doesn’t have a driven narrative.
From a technical standpoint, Andrew is by himself now. There’s no one else to balance any of the oddball directions songs may take. Which is why TFCF feels like the creepiest. It’s not from a collective but from one mind. I’m not really sure if that’s the big picture but it’s a pretty creepy journey.
Do you think the lack of personnel changes the way Liars operates?
It’s hard to say from an internal dynamic what the changes in operations might be. Only Andrew knows that for sure. But it certainly has the sound of an album that’s a singular vision instead of a group vision. That’s a funny thing to say when we’ve already admitted this album’s concept is less obvious than the previous albums. Usually a singular vision wades deep into the conceptual deep end, but this is different.
Liars have mentioned previously that they’ll use a theme or concept to challenge themselves as a band. Andrew may not feel the need to take that approach when it’s just him. That’s the kind of approach a band takes so they’re all on the same page when coming up with a new album. No need to keep everyone on the same page when it’s just one dude.
But this one man show aspect also leads to two other outcomes that affect how the album sounds. All the songs on TFCF are sparse or or electronic or both. That’s the result of not having a full band. This is what gives TFCF some semblance of cohesion. The limitations of one band member work to create a sound that may not be uniform but amount to various patches on a quilt.
Another interesting outcome is that his voice is on this album more than ever. Previously, Aaron Hemphill contributed a lot of backing vocals. And even if this aspect of the band is easy to overlook or underrate, the contrast between having Hemphill’s vocals on previous albums and having only Andrew’s vocals on this one is pretty significant even if it’s more of a subliminal difference.
And that’s the thing, isn’t it? The differences between TFCF and previous Liars albums are in the margins. This still sounds like a Liars album through and through but tweaked for a solitary experience.
Maybe that’s the biggest takeaway I have for this album, and maybe that’s why it feels interwoven even when the songs shouldn’t make sense side by side with each other. TFCF is the sound of being alone but not lonely. This is what it sounds like to be in your house late at night with bad thoughts racing through your mind.
TFCF is the sound of a house that is haunted not by ghosts but by unhealthy thoughts — a sort of mental haunting.
You’re right, its very much a night album. Liars have always nailed that paranoia of being alone with your thoughts. That aspect is amplified now that its just Andrew. Going from a band to a solo artist can can make the canvas smaller but much more focused. Despite being weird and darker than usual, this just might be the most direct in a mental sense. No matter what, it’s a different beast all together.
With that said I’m having a difficult time trying to figure out where I place it among the other albums. Of course its new and even though I’ve played it over and over, all Liars album grow over the years.
In some ways It sort of feels like an alternate reality where this is the proper follow-up to Drums. It has that cold, empty feeling of an electronica album but the weirdness of electronic music played by humans instead of being sequenced.
I do feel its much more accessible than WIXIW for those same reasons. TFCF is very much an electronic album despite having far more guitars in it than the last few. I love me some rock n roll (especially the weird kind) but experimental electronic is where Liars really shine.
However, I can’t say I’d rank TFCF higher than Sisterworld and Self-Titled. Those are my favorite records from Liars.
I can’t even pick which one of the two I like more. Even at their most electronic, Liars always nailed the discord aesthetics of garage rock.
I’ll say outside the lead single, TFCF isn’t as accessible as their electronic efforts. I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who’s never heard of Liars. The amped up paranoia might be a little off putting and not really the best introduction to what they’re about. It’s an album album. A reward for fans who’ve been there for the past decade.
I love Liars so much but it’s so difficult to rank their albums together. TFCF complicates that even more. It’s not their strongest electronic album but not my favorite rock album. Although placing it the middle almost feels unfair.
Liars doesn’t make average albums and TFCF is anything but average.
I’m torn. On one hand I’m basking in the glow of a new Liars record but it’s not an instant classic when compared to the others. However its just so interesting and unique not placing it higher on my list seems like an injustice.
So by default alone, I’m ranking it in the middle. I’m sure in a few months that will change for better or worse. Liars didn’t reinvent the wheel but it’s sure as hell rolling down a strange street and that’s what they do best.
Yeah, they’re a weird band for sure. I think of their albums as suites. Trench, Drowned, and Drums form the first suite. S/T and Sisterworld forms the second suite. WIXIW, Mess and TFCF forms the third suite. But there are parallels in those suites. The first album is the most accessible of the suite.
The second album is the most challenging and abrasive. The third album is the strangest (this does make me wonder what the third album of a S/T/Sisterworld suite would have been if they bothered to make that a trilogy).
So it’s interesting that you look at this as the sequel to Drums. In a way, it is. They both take on the same role in their respective suites. They feel of their suites but also of each other.
I’ve always said that there’s no wrong way to rank Liars albums. Even with this new one, I can’t say it’s better or worse than any of the others. It comes down to personal preference.
You like straight up rock more than I do, so those albums in their middle suite (the rock period) are your favorite. I like things more abrasive, so Mess and Drowned tend to be my favorite. But also like weird, ya know? I like weird a lot. And all of that combines to put S/T and Sisterworld toward the bottom of my list, but not as a slight to those albums.
I’m not sure if I have a specific rank off the top of my head, but I will say this: Mess was in the middle or toward the bottom of my rankings, and now it’s definitely my number one. Liars can be like that. Every album is a grower even if you love it immediately, which is probably why they’re my favorite band. Not often can something be immediate to you and still have room to grow or explore.
And that is to say that I could see this new album rising to the top. Maybe not above Mess, but I didn’t see Mess taking my top spot when it dropped. Hell, I didn’t see Mess taking the top spot as recently as six months ago. TFCF is good enough that I won’t put limits on it. It’s not like when Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief dropped, and I knew it would never top Kid A for me.
I’m puzzled about TFCF, but that’s not a bad thing. If anything, it may be a good thing.
The suites analogy is perfect. It justifies not being able to rank them. For me its either rock or electronic and even that isn’t cut and dry. You’re spot on with my taste being more on the rock side but we’re totally on the same page when it comes to the weirdness. This album pretty much delivers on all three accounts.
Which brings me to another aspect of this record. How’s it going to fair live? Liars has toured both electronic and rock sets according to the albums they support but I’m more curious about how Andrew is going to pull it off himself now that he’s alone.
I’m seeing Liars at Riot Fest this year and really don’t know what to expect! This album is mostly electronic but Andrew isn’t going to be able to play all the instruments himself. There’s no shame in having for-hire musicians for a live show, but chemistry among musicians is important. Maybe even more important with Liars seeing as said chemistry could be what separates them from being a boring electronic band at a rock festival.
I saw SURVIVE at Pitchfork this year and even though I love that band, the set bored me to tears. Four dudes standing behind laptops for an hour isn’t my idea of a good show, plus they didn’t have the luxury of being at night for the chill vibes. Liars are basically opening Riot Fest so it’s going to be interesting how Andrew will pull it off. TFCF might be easier to play but it still raises questions about past material.
Yes, exactly this. Back in 2010, I saw Atlas Sound (the solo project of Bradford Cox of Deerhunter), and even though his album was multilayered, he made it work by placing down those layers using loop pedals. It was fascinating watching the different parts of each song come together when it was just one man, and I’m the type of person who hates it when live acts use loop pedals. Here, it worked.
The difference is that Cox is and always has been a showman. He’s electric, and he eats up a live stage. His between songs banter was nonsensical high-on-psychedelics insanity, but we ate it all up anyway.
I’ve never seen Andrew play live (other than on Youtubed studio sessions), so I don’t know if he’d be able to pull off the same kind of one man act that Cox did. And that seems even more difficult when you factor in older, less electronic material (as you said). This is one of those situations where you go, “Welp, it’s interesting but it might be terrible.”
You’re a musician. If you were in his place, and you were putting on a show, how exactly would you go about it? What would your approach be? Let’s say you Freaky Friday into Andrew’s body. What do you do?
Oh it can be done and pretty well too, that is if he chooses to go solo. These days its becoming more and more common to see solo artists manning an entire ship. Its the band chemistry that I’d be worried about the most. At thier most electronic, Liars was still a band.
If I were to Freaky Friday into Andrew, my first thing would be create a set list that sells most of TFCF yet features enough classic tracks to prove it’s still Liars and not a solo project.
From a technical level, I’d hire a drummer and a bass player. Loops and samples would work fine but having living, breathing musicians will make it much more entertaining.
I’d also work on the arrangements in such a way that it doesn’t sound like a “guitar version” of the new songs. A tape delay pedal will be the most valuable asset. I wouldn’t want to be twisting knobs and pressing buttons like Bon Iver the whole time.
The bass player could work out some of the rhythms many of the loops do because there isn’t much bass guitar on the new record. Having that ground work with a live drum kit will free me up to do my vocal thing and guitar weirdness.
A lot of the songs have open air so rearrangement shouldn’t be too much of a problem. But with some tweaks here and there, the new songs can work along side Sisterworld stuff as well as Drums. Plus the spontaneity of live performance can lead to some unexpected weirdness. I would just make sure to stick to a script and not get too far out like a jam band. I despise that sort of thing.
Okay, you’ve got me hooked. Give me your perfect Liars set list in this Freaky Friday situation. And I’ll make mine, too, because everything we do has to end in weird playlists. Let’s say the set is between 50 and 70 minutes. What would Coopandrew assemble? Lay it on me.
What conversation would be complete without our weird playlists? I’d say me being Freaky Friday’d into Andrew’s body is most definitely weird enough to earn it’s own playlist.
Of course this playlist isn’t a collection of my favorite songs, but a list of music I would play as a live band. There’s plenty of live instrumentation my for-hire musicians to play around with, while maintaining the electronic direction Liars has been on with the last few records.
There’s also some wiggle room for live experimentation as well as alternate arrangements for some of the in-between tracks. Also note there are quite a few new songs on this set list. It may be important to play ‘hits’ to prove to the audience this is still Liars despite the dramatic line-up change, it’s just as important to showcase what the current lineup represents and a glimpse at a possible future.
Mess On A Mission / Cred Woes / Freak Out / Clear Island / No Help Pamphlet / Hold Hands And It Will Happen Anyway / Scarecrows On A Killer Slant / I Can Still See An Outside World / Face To Face With My Face / No.1 Against The Rush / Brats / Coins Crushed In My Caged Fist / Ripe Ripe Rot / Mess On A Mission
Curious that your list is shorter than mine given that I’m usually the one advocating for shorter albums and set lists. Mine can be cut down more if need be, but I couldn’t help myself here:
The Grand Delusional / Scissor / No Barrier Fun / No Tree No Branch / Pro Anti Anti / Can’t Hear Well / Mess on a Mission / Ripe Ripe Rot / Emblems of Another Story / No.1 Against the Rush / Who is the Hunter / Protection / No Help Pamphlet / Houseclouds / The Wrong Coat for you Mt. Heart Attack / Scarecrows on a Killer Slant / The Overachievers / The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack
With my list, I wanted to go with songs that were either heavily electronic already (basically anything from Mess and WIXIW and TFCF) or songs that are atmospheric or could be paired down to be atmospheric. Only three songs on my list aren’t already solely electronic and/or atmospheric: “Houseclouds,” “Scarecrows” and “Overachievers.” But those are songs that could take on an entirely new feel if he Andrew rearranges them for his one man band.
Wait….. what did I just say?
Ah yes, in my Freaky Friday situation, it’s just Andrew up on that stage. I figured with you going the hired guns route, I would approach this with just this one man up on the stage. And while most of the songs lean into that, I really liked the idea of taking a few more difficult songs to do as one person and seeing how he handles it.
My hope is that he doesn’t simply rely on synths to carry him through some of these songs. I’d love to see a heavily effects-pedal’d guitar transform something like Scarecrows into a slow, creepy march.
A tense performance with sparse instrumentation could be electrifying if done right. It’s a bit of a high risk/high reward gambit. Sparse arrangements can end up becoming boring arrangements in the wrong hands. But the best thing about Liars has always been that atmosphere of doom.
Given that your list is based on having a mercenary band as backup, your list makes total sense. I’d almost try to nitpick that it would be great to have even more of their rock songs on the list, but that wouldn’t actually work with the new material. So, begrudgingly, I have to admit you did a really good job with your list.
Right. I’m thinking of in a band sense. In a lot of ways, Andrew kind of has to. Liars is just him now and going straight up is predictable if a little boring. Andrew thinks outside the box so much, it would a testament to his unpredictability to tour this album in an even great band setting.
Your set list is very atmospheric and he does that so well, it would be almost an easy way out for him to go that route. If he doesn’t go in the hired-gun direction, your set list is near perfect. It captures that impending doom Liars is all about.
In saying all of that and tying it back to my thoughts on TFCF, Andrews is still in top form.
Even though its not really a band anymore, it still feels like a band effort. It really puts him in an interesting place moving forward. He could go full band style with guitars and drums or a one man electronica machine and it’ll still be Liars.
I’m stoked about this TFCF. Stoked to see him/them at Riot Fest and pretty stoked we still have Liars pumping on all cylinders.
Ha! And here I was thinking that touring with a hired band would be the predictable move. Maybe it’s more a sign of what we consider predictable or unpredictable than a sign of what actually is predictable. Now that you mention it, I can see it both ways.
Touring with a hired band is predictable because it lets him play all his songs straight up, but it’s unpredictable because managing hired musicians is hard — so is teaching them all the material.
Touring alone is predictable because the band is just him now, which makes touring alone make a certain amount of sense. It’s unpredictable because he’ll have to rearrange many of the songs for them to work in this setting, and he’ll have to reimagine ways to keep the audience engaged.
The upside is that there are benefits to both approaches. The downside is there are drawbacks to both approaches. It’ll be fascinating either way it goes.
I was worried going into this album that it would be terrible. He’s been at this for so long, and losing the rest of the band is such a big change. The first single, “Cred Woes,” is decent but an entire album of just that would have been disappointing. It’s actually more of an outlier on the album — a showy electronic dance single on an album of moody, understated tunes. I am so glad my worry was for naught.
But do you blame me for my worry? Look at the album cover. This guy went to art school, and yet he released an album with the ugliest cover I’ve ever seen. That alone had me worried.
And, oh yeah, I can’t wait to hear what you think of the Riot Fest set.