Liars' second full-length is an expressionist scream of an album, a prolonged howl into the darkness. A subtle vein of ESG and Liquid Liquid-style percussive funk remains, but it is buried under a black mass of murky, clanking distortion.
Since their epoch-making They Threw us in a Trench and Put a Monument on Top, the album that single-handedly kicked off the spastic no-wave revival and established Williamsburg as the new Seattle (or Omaha, or wherever the definitive scene was that week), Liars have moved into ever more experimental territory, a landscape defined by pure, harsh sound, hammered home through repetition and underlined with moaned, whispered and chanted words. They Were Wrong So We Drowned is conceptually united around the theme of witch trials, and its tracks vary from the spiky, manic quasi-funk of the single "There's Always Room on the Broom" (which could be slipped into Trench quite easily) to the cracked and distorted Gregorian chant of "Read the Book that Wrote Itself".
They Were Wrong is the first Liars album to feature a new line-up, as sometime last year, Liars dumped their original rhythm section -- Pat Noecker on bass and Ron Albertson on drums -- and added one-named Julian as drummer. Aaron Hemphill continues to play guitar and other assorted instruments, while Angus Andrew performs his messianic vocals. The results, to me, are mixed. The percussion is uniformly interesting, from the near-tribal drums of "Hold Hands and It Will Happen Anyway" to the stuttering, sputtering rush of "Broken Witch" and "There's Always Room on the Broom". Still, the bass was a big part of Trench's twitchy, no-wave propulsion, and it's almost entirely absent this time. There's a trade-off here: Liars have sacrificed some of the serendipity and cooperative energy that comes from recording with a real band, in order in order to express Hemphill and Andrew's personal vision more purely. The finished product is a fascinatingly cinematic, image-laden and claustrophobic album that feels like the someone else's nightmare.
Like other Liars efforts, They Were Wrong takes a few listens to fully enter into, and resists easy categorization or analysis. It is far darker and denser than Trench, with fewer sudden flashes of silence and more background textures and layers. Listening is somewhat like allowing your eyes to get used to the darkness -- at first, shapes and general impressions emerge, and only later are you able to recognize the structure and details.
This is very much a concept album, where sequencing seems important and individual tracks rely upon each other for contrast and context. The high points, however, include the crack-crazed disco alienation of "They Don't Want Your Corn, They Want Your Children" (split in the middle by a Liquid Liquidesque percussion break), the old-style Liars energy of "There's Always Room on the Broom" and the harsh and insistent "Hold Hands and It Will Happen Anyway".
They Were Wrong isn't an easy album, but it shows one of our best, most adventurous bands extending its reach and making its idiosyncratic vision real. You don't have to like it, but if you want to know what's going on at the forefront, you've definitely got to listen.