Seven albums in and Liars are still one of the most notorious and formidable bands around. From their debut They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top to this year’s Mess, they’ve continued to defy expectations and challenge listeners. With each release the stacks have been raised and Liars have met these expectations by taking their music in a completely different direction. From their dance punk origins through the post punk and even noise offerings of Drums Not Dead to the more subdued but darker Sisterworld they’ve refused to stay true to one identity and in turn their identity has become protean and malleable. This can be an admirable trait in an artist but it can also be a hindrance as the artist’s allegiances begin to shift with the changing trends their artistic integrity is challenged. This is the quagmire that Liars finds themselves in with Mess.
The 2012 release, WIXIW, saw Liars dump their guitars for computers and their angry rhythms for moody synths. Unfortunately this move came off as inconsistent and lacked any real foresight despite the few gems like the bouncy “Brats.” Mess finds Liars still infatuated with software over guitars and drums but they have found their swagger again. “Mess Maker” opens with the detuned vocals, “Take My Pants Off,” before the beat drops. This is a dance album…or at least a twisted version of a dance album. It’s also an angry album. The fire and tenacity that made Drums Not Dead and Liars such classics is back. “Mess on a Mission,” is one of the best Liar’s songs since Drums Not Dead, unfortunately the rest of the album fails to live up to Liar’s oeuvre.
Liar’s strength as a band has always been their way of interpreting musical genres into new and imaginative forms. They took post punk and made it interesting when the rest of the music industry was plagiarizing every Gang of Four riff imaginable, but with Mess, Liars are no longer leaders or innovators they’re followers. Despite its strengths and it’s replete with strong moments, it’s impossible not to judge Liars on their artistic merit before their musical merit. This is the same band that ended their debut album with an almost unlistenable 30 minute song. They’re inextricably linked to their artistic integrity and intentions. That’s why Mess is a difficult album, because it’s as listenable and trendy as any album they’ve released.
Taken on a purely musical level, Mess is an album full of strong moments, but is never as fresh as their earlier efforts or consistent as classics like Sisterworld or Liar. It’s unfortunate because the music world is a much better place when Liars are leading the pack instead of following.