Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Liars - They Were Wrong So We Drowned

They Were Wrong So We Drowned

Released 2004 on Mute
Reviewed by Popel Vooje, 13/09/2004ce

When they first breezed into town three years ago, there wasn't a great deal to distinguish Liars from the plethora of Anglophilic New York bands currently paying tribute to the British post-punk scene of the late 70s / early 80s. A few reports filtered through about their feverishly intense and visceral live shows, but their debut LP, "They Threw Us Into A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top" was merely a grittier and more hardcore punk-influenced take on The Gang Of Four's angular funk scratchings. Entertaining enough to own, sure, but not by any stretch of the imagination a benchmark album.

Nonetheless, the hypnotic 20 minute one-chord tape-loop which closed "They Threw Us..." suggested a wilfulness and a willingness to head out into more mysterious and uncharted musical territory which had yet to come to fruition. F*** knows what happened to them in between then and now. What we do know is that they shed their original rhythm section of Pat Noecker and Ron Albertson, gained a percussionist (Julien Gross), and then made the somewhat bonkers decision to record a concept album about the Brocken Witch hunts of the mid-to-late 16th Century. According to vocalist Angus Andrew the decision was serendipitous - he typed the words "broken witch" into a Google search engine, which then produced a slew of websites covering the events in Brocken, which appears to have been Germany's equivalent of Salem in terms of Christian fanaticism and persecution of perceived heretics.

The opening track, entitled "Brocken Witch", does a stellar job of setting the tone for the rest of the LP. Possibly the most powerful album-opener I've encountered since Pere Ubu's "Non-Alignment Pact", it is disjointed, discordant, and compellingly unnerving. Reminiscent of an even more paranoid and intense take on the electronic proto-punk of the Silver Apples' "Contact", it is the most instantaneous track on the album. It's followed by "Steam Rose From The Lifeless Cloak", a hazy fogged-out instrumental underpinned by a vicious tribal drumbeat that suggests nothing less than a gaggle of yokel sorceresses huddled around a cauldron beating out demented incantations.

However, it is the single, "There's Always Room On The Broom", which is the next track to provoke that white-knuckle, hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck sensation inspired by"Brocken Witch". By this time you're thinking either that Liars have either flipped their collective box completely or that someone has infiltrated their camp with copious amounts of high quality subatances. A brutally dissonant tape loop stretches itself across drumbeats so vicious and primeval they make The Monks sound sophisticated, topped off by a paranoid and largely unintelligible vocal tirade from Angus Andrew that recalls Mark Stewart at his most unhinged. Nonetheless, compared to their debut, this is strikingly original stuff which sheds the retro tendencies of its predecessor and allows Liars to establish a distinct identity for the first time.

"If You're A Wizard, Then Why Do You Wear Glasses" ups the horrorshow ante even further by featuring bloodcurdling sampled screams and crackling fire effects. It's followed by the dubby "We Fenced Other Gardens With The Bones Of Our Own" which sounds like the Pop Group filtered through a King Tubby-produced sensimilla haze, then by "They Don't Want Your Corn, They Want Your Kids", which re-introduces the Silver Apples influence, pairing a featherlight, skippity drum machine beat with a single atonal synthesizer note and hushed, minimal vocals. Indeed, from here on the album gets progressively calmer and more mystical, as if the raging catharsis of the first five tracks had purged the band's collective and individual phantoms to the point where they felt free to stretch out into a comparatively dreamlike, sedated zone.

"Read The Book That Wrote Itself" escapes the rhythmic shackles of rock music altogether and enters the abstract realm of experimentalists like Main and Techno Animal, consisting merely of a looped windstorm sample topped off by ambient freeform guitar slithers. "Hold Hands And It Will Happen Anyway" re-introduces the aggressive feedback histrionics of "There's Always Room On The Broom", whilst "They Took 14 for The Rest Of Our Lives" is possibly "They Were Wrong..."'s weakest track, the only spot on the album where the brutal clatter-beats and screeching guitars sound formulaic rather than inspired. Nonetheless, it is redeemed by a foreboding two-note bass riff at the end of each verse that recalls the gloomy detachment of Wire's "Indirect Enquiries".

The album ends superbly with the bizarre "Flow My Tears The Spider Said" in which a waltzing fairground barrel organ and bawdy olde worlde vocals give way to an entropic ambient landscape of whispers, birdsong and distant gusts of wind. It's a curious and incongruous way to end such a fiercely uncompromising record but according to Liars' new found (absence of) logic, it fits in perfectly.

All in all, "They Were Wrong, So We Drowned" is one of the more challenging and inventive albums to have emerged from the US underground in this or any other year, and, whilst definitely an aquired taste, rewards repeated listening by revealing new depths and subtleties with continued exposure. I fully believe that in 20 years time, people like us will be writing about this album with the same belated reverence that Krautrock and too-far-ahead-of-their-time outfits like Silver Apples and Chrome receive today, so do yourself a favour and discover them now while they're still around.

Reviews Index