After churning out two relatively straightforward rock albums, WIXIW is a return to Liars' roots in that it's unlike anything they've ever done. Before the comparative normalcy of Liars and Sisterworld, Liars flitted from dance punk to witch hunting narratives to a percussion oriented concept album. WIXIW finds the trio experimenting again, this time holing themselves up in their own dark corner of the electronic genre.
Liars recorded WIXIW in a windowless studio crammed below the L.A. freeway, and the album projects claustrophobia. Front man Angus Andrew layers somber chants over sparse electronic loops; he sounds like an animal that has been caged and sedated in comparison to Sisterworld's violent mood swings. The album initially sounds cold and distant, but that sound becomes more appreciated once the listener realizes that WIXIW's music and vocals are deliberately working together to embody isolation. The result is an intriguing paradox; Liars loathe mainstream society yet they make their living creating music for that society. The band's frequent use of facebook and tumblr to post studio photos promoting the album highlights this catch-22. It makes me wonder if J.D. Salinger would have tweeted instagram photos of his typewriter during all those lonely weekends at the cabin had he been given the chance.
This human contradiction is at the heart of WIXIW's best moments. The album's dark, moody surface pushes you away, while Andrew and co-writer Aaron Hemphill's fragmented lyrics display glimpses of intimacy and vulnerability. The title track is a microcosm for the entire album; its six minute plus run time is intimidating, as the music and vocals seem to be competing rather than complimenting in the song's opening minutes. The title "WIXIW" itself seems indecipherable. But two minutes in, Andrew pronounces it "wish you" as in "I wish you were here with me," and he sounds like an almost normal guy. A guy who could be a hit at the company Christmas party if someone would only "tie him up in a red ribbon" and "teach him how to be a person."
Some music critics have already christened WIXIW as Liars' Kid A. Like Kid A, its polarizing nature is causing people to champion it as the bands' best or condemn it as their worst. In reality, WIXIW falls somewhere in the middle of the canon. This isn't the Liars album to blast on the way to the beach with your windows down and your friends chatting, unless you're listening to the club ready bass line of "Brats." Fittingly, it sounds best in an empty room with undivided attention. But chances are, if you can genuinely relate to and identify with the isolation that WIXIW personifies, you don't really feel like going to the beach today anyway.