Sisterworld, Liars’ fifth album, is dedicated to alternate universes — not quite parallel, perhaps, but timelines threaded through our own world, dipping in and out like needlepoint. So it seems fitting that the record should open with a track like “Scissor”: Instead of the band’s habitual busted noise and seasick drones, we’re treated to a sweet a cappella choir, with Angus Andrew croaking over the top like Tom Waits. The whole thing shimmers like a mirage above a soot-soaked Hollywood Boulevard, at least until it explodes into 16 storming bars of pissed-off metal. Then, as suddenly as it flared up, it cools again into a puddle of liquid light. It’s not so much about altered states as dual natures.
Recorded in their newfound home of Los Angeles, Sisterworld finds the band refining the balance of elements long in play in their music: tom-heavy, almost tribal rhythms; droning, muttering voices; battered garage rock; jaggedly tangential freakouts; refrigerator hum and the complaint of kicked amplifiers. But the sound field is even wider than usual, thanks the strings, horns and electronics that hug the quieter end of the spectrum.
“Drip” takes a page from Sonic Youth’s “Freezer Burn,” but its buzzing feedback, instead of sounding ominous, bathes in the incandescent glow of Andrew’s vocals. “Proud Evolution” opens with soft major chords, an uncharacteristic ray of sunshine, before the bass leads things down a darker path; coiled and purposeful of groove, it sounds almost like Liars’ version of Kompakt’s streamlined techno. (Indeed, the vocal-heavy production is reminiscent of Kompakt’s own Matias Aguayo.) The dirge-like “Goodnight Everything” is another standout, with crushing guitar riffs cushioned by horns, distant voices and even the whiz and chatter of robots; it’s like Swans meets Wall-E.
“The Overachievers” is a sneering, barroom punk brawler about Silver Lake yuppies that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the Repo Man soundtrack. That’s not to say it sounds retro; quite the opposite, but the band’s ability to blow a hole through conventional timekeeping is what helps them deliver an album this evocative of the multiverse.