BLIND TASTE TEST: Liars – They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top

Back to share more of his favourite music, Nick Parker attempts once again to get Fran to like Liars.

Dear Fran,

I can’t count the number of bands who I’ve heard claim, more or less explicitly, that they are strange, weird, odd, etc. etc. How many really deserve that award? Hardly any more than Liars.

This debut album is often hilariously oddball, as it includes songs about the ceiling of lead singer Angus Andrew’s hallway, set up with a beat derived from a typewriter (“The Garden was Crowded and Outside”). This title sums up the tenor of lots of their music on this album, along with such classic titles as “Grown Men Don’t Fall in the River, Just Like That” and “Mr. You’re on fire Mr.”. It’s all set to a mix of instrumental and synthetic beats, and fantastic bass tone, that is so addictive you should be blown away. Not likely though, I’d guess.

Okay. Cheers, Nick. I’ll start by saying that I don’t go into this without preconceptions about Liars. The majority of the Blind Taste Test’s we’ve done so far have introduced not only an album but also an artist, but in this instance that isn’t what’s happening. I know two Liars albums reasonably well already. We covered their 2017 album Tfcf on the podcast and were, universally, not blown away. This was a largely acoustic work, but with a voice that, for me at least, was simply not suited to that medium. And I had also got to know 2014’s Mess prior to going to Green Man Festival, where Liars were doing a late-night set on the Far Out Stage.

I didn’t go and see Liars that night. But that isn’t because I didn’t get anything from that album – I just didn’t get as much from that as I did from whoever was on one of the other stages at that time. Mess is a much more dance influenced album and is at times total chaos, but in a reasonably good way. With these two albums being so wildly different, though, I have no anchor as to what to expect from their debut. I go in expecting the unexpected…

In the early moments of ‘Grown Men Don’t Fall in the River, Just Like That’ I am struggling to see what Nick might have been hoping to achieve by allocating this album to me, other than maybe wanting to prove his (incorrect) assumption that I moan about music more than he does. Great title it might be, but the monotone spoken word that leads into some aggressive shredding doesn’t do a lot for me. I’m not excited by this start. The Liars stuff I have heard previously definitely feels more oddball, while there’s a generic rock feel track to this first song. Going to the country, gonna eat a lot of peaches.

With ‘Mr Your on Fire Mr’ there is definitely some slightly more oddball elements, and I’m more into the beat. It makes me want to move my shoulders a bit. But I can’t really make out much of what he is saying and, if I’m being honest, I find the tone of his voice in these opening tunes as annoying as I did on Tfcf.

As we move into ‘Loose Nuts on the Velodrome’, I am surprised by this album. But for different reasons than I expected. Monument feels like a pretty generic rock album so far. Loud shredded guitars, heavy percussion, screeching vocals that are difficult to discern. I expected something more out there.

‘The Garden Was Crowded and Outside’ is definitely my favourite song title so far, and I have to admit that Nick was right about their aptitude in this department. There’s something slightly more interesting about this music, too. The crunchy distortion on the guitars, the introduction of some more electronic elements. But I do fear that there is one constant that is going to hold me back from getting into this album, and that is that I find I’m not really getting on with his shouting and bawling. Where’s the light and shade? Best song so far, though…

The next one feels a bit different right from the off. ‘Tumbling Walls Buried Me in the Debris’ has an interesting buzz over the whole song, and the bassline is pushing the whole song forward. It’s also the best performance on the percussion so far, even if I would maybe tell the drummer to dial it back just a little bit. But the best thing here is that he isn’t screeching – there’s more measure to his vocal performance, an almost spoken word feel to it. I’m still struggling to make out what he’s saying, which is always going to be a problem for me, but this shows a side to the album that I’ve been missing so far. A first time in which they’ve taken a step back and changed it up a bit. Will we keep improving as we go?

‘Nothing is Ever Lost or Can Be Lost My Science Friend’: I mean, this title is just stupid really. First fail in that department. But again, I can see some hints as to why people call them oddball in this one – much more so than in those first three songs. The bass and drums are great again here – we have really improved after a first three songs that I got nothing from, but I’m still not 100% behind his vocal stylings and if I don’t start to get some sense of what they are singing about in the remaining three songs then this is not gonna be a successful experiment.
I don’t have a great deal to say about ‘We Live NE of Compton.’ A decent bassline again but I have to say that I still find it hard to make out what the lead ‘singer’ is going on about, other than something about separating boys from men, and it feels like a step back towards the generic macho rock of those first few songs.

‘Why Midnight Walked But Didn’t Ring Her Bell’ is an oddly beautiful song title. And I would call it an oddly beautiful song, too. The first time I’ve felt like using that description here. This is just fifty-one seconds of piano and drums and it works. It’s a captivating interlude, but is it leading up to a closer that’s gonna change my mind about the album as a whole?

Well I’ve just looked down and seen that ‘This Dust Makes That Mud’ is 30 minutes long. I’m terrified. Any thirty-minute song is a song I don’t want to listen to particularly, but when I have had mixed feelings throughout the album so far this is doing little to encourage me. A few minutes in there’s the bleeps and bloops which I suppose lead some people to say that this is an ‘experimental’ album, but the singer continues to mumble then scream, then mumble then scream. Again, the bass and drums are the highlights, but I’m currently hoping that this is one of those albums with a secret song after a long silence and that I’m not going to have to listen to thirty minutes of this.

But I’m seven minutes into it now, those distorted guitars and the bleeps and bloops are still there, the drums and bass that are so often the strongest elements on this album are still the strongest elements here, but after nearly ten minutes they haven’t changed their rhythm or tempo even once.

And then from the seventh minute until the thirtieth, not a single new thing happens – I wait, impatiently, to be surprised. But I’m not surprised. I’m infuriated. Is that what it means to be oddball and experimental, then? To have a thirty-minute-long song that stays exactly the same for twenty three minutes of the thirty?

A terrible end, then, to an album that started badly and warmed up a little in the middle. Not something I’ll be going back to.

What I will say, though, is that after getting to the end of They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, I can see why people herald Liars for being out there and a little different – the album is bookended by two totally different styles, from the macho screech rock of the opening few songs, to the long winded electronica at the end. It feels like two different bands. Sadly, neither of them are bands that I want to listen to – and I can’t help but feel that Nick won’t be at all surprised by my reaction to this one. But if he is I apologise (kind of).

That changeability is also evident in the other Liars albums I’ve heard, a rather unlistenable set of acoustic songs and a more enjoyable, but still forgettable, set of dance anthems. So if you like your bands inconsistent and all over the place, I think you’ve found a winner.

Peace out.

Words by Fran Slater

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