It’s pretty much official now: Liars sound best at their spookiest. To get psyched up for 2004’s witch-centric They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, the trio embarked on a series of pitch-black forest romps; for 2006’s conceptually cryptic Drum’s Not Dead, the band released a promo photo with two members’ heads bloodily lobbed off. So when a chilling video featuring frontman Angus Andrew lost at sea, besieged by supernatural forces, went viral last month, Liars loyalists knew fifth LP Sisterworld would rule.
And it does. Even if you haven’t seen the video, leadoff cut “Scissor” might give you nightmares; its mournful harmonies and gloomy strings welcome listeners into a mysterious sonic space controlled by a mood dial that goes from uneasy to sinister. The creeping pace of three-song cycle “No Barrier Fun,” “Here Comes All the People” and “Drip” is hypnotic, daring you to pick apart their dense textures ... just before Andrew jumps out of the bushes shrieking, “Stand ’em in the street with a gun/And then kill ’em all!” during the punky “Scarecrows on a Killer Slant.”
The album’s back half brings more treachery. “I Can Still See an Outside World” drifts sleepily, then intensifies with an attack of distorted guitar. The sound of jackhammers hints that “Proud Evolution” won’t stay quiet forever, and it doesn’t, introducing a surprisingly danceable loop mid-song. Only “The Overachievers” feels straightforward, bluntly attacking the “culture” of LA (“I bought a house with you/We settled down with cats/There wasn’t much to do/So we just sat and watched the TV”). But then, it’s back to wonderful weirdness, with the noisy glimmer of closing track “Too Much, Too Much” illuminating the beauty of despair—and luring you straight back to Sisterworld.