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Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2003



Liars: "They Threw Us In a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top"

It takes more talent than guts to defy categorization, but Liars, an art-punk quartet based in Brooklyn, has done so seemingly through sheer force of will. Out of the band's blend of angular beats, grating effects, compressed vocals, and nonlinear song structures comes a recognizable sonic manifesto intended to keep listeners continually off balance while pulling their butts onto the dance floor. Though Liars is invariably compared to Gang of Four, who believed you were more likely to get their Marxist drift while you were pogoing, the politics of Liars' debut, "They Threw Us In a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top," is no less compelling for being totally incomprehensible.

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It's difficult to know whether or not you're processing Aussie vocalist Angus Andrew's epigrammatic lyrics correctly. The insistence of a nonsensical line like "They cut me up at the medical school" is intensified by the repetition of the first four words almost a dozen times before arriving at the last four. "We Live NE of Compton" is a mess of syllables that connect only intermittently. You might think the addling phrase sung at the beginning is "They'll burn us in the bathroom," but you can't be sure, so you listen more carefully and get sucked in, increasingly obsessed with finding out what it is he's getting at.

Though Aaron Hemphill's slashing guitar lines are just as exciting as Andrew's vocals, Liars' secret weapon is their effects boxes. Radiohead have tried to elevate these tools to the mainstream, but Liars still think they're subversive. And while a lot of bands are doing quite creative things with loops, Liars purposely don't. The last 20 minutes of the 30-minute closer, "This Dust Makes That Mud," is the same 4-second phrase played end-on-end, hypnotizing the listener into a drooling stupor. Resolution doesn't come easy in a Liars song: They build a wall of coarse textures and then have drummer Ron Albertson tear it down with conventional beats. Pat Nature's bass playing is anything but conventional, and the closest thing sonically to Gang of Four.

"We've got our finger on the pulse of America," says Andrew on "Grown Men Don't Fall in the River Just Like That," and the statement is as ridiculous as it is confrontational. Liars don't take your pulse, they wring your neck.

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