If you've been following the career of the Liars (and who hasn't?), you probably know they started out in New York, but recently moved to Berlin. They also started out playing noisy, angular but funky post-punk on their debut album, "They Threw Us All In a Trench and Stuck a Monument On Top." Album number two, 2004's "They Were Wrong, So We Drowned" boasted a different rhythm section and created a concept album about the German holiday Walpurgisnacht that was radically...different than the debut. Vaguely tribal, very arty and noisy all over, it alienated many of their fans, except for those who listen to things like Wolf Eyes for fun. You know who you are.
The new album, "Drum's Not Dead," is another sharp left turn into uncharted territory. The move to Germany seems to have been on purpose; the spirit of Krautrock bands like Can and Faust is all over this album. On the first listen it seems experimental and willfully "difficult," but repeated listens will focus things a bit. Overall it's a lot quieter than previous efforts--there are moments that recall Sigur Ros and post-"Kid A" Radiohead. Not leaving New York totally behind, other possible reference points could be Black Dice, Animal Collective and of course Sonic Youth, so when I say "quieter," I don't necessarily mean "soft." Many songs feature Japanese Taiko-style drumming and atmospheric washes of guitar. Sometimes things get noisy, but nothing that'll get you evicted. Oh, yeah, and did I mention that it's another concept album? The "story," and I use the term very loosely, revolves around a pair of characters called Mt. Heart Attack and Drum, who represent the yin/yang duality of a person. The former is stress and self-doubt and the latter is creative energy and productivity, or something like that. It's actually pretty vague and the album as a whole doesn't have any kind of operatic flow (i.e. overtures and multi-song suites), instead going for a less linear, avant-garde kind of experience. Of course, with song titles like "Be Quiet Mt. Heart Attack" and "Drum and the Uncomfortable Can," there's obviously something going on.
Something like a DVD that comes with the CD, which has the entire album three different times (!), each one containing videos for all the songs. Whether or not you want to watch all of it is up to you, but you can listen to the album in an optional 5.1 mix, which really made the album come alive for me. Some of the videos make creative use of animation and even claymation, some use live and in-studio footage, and one seems to be an album-length document of a snail, which confirms that whatever else you can say about Berlin, they must have mind-blowing pot there.
All in all, "Drum's Not Dead" is a firm rebuke to the naysayers who declared the band lacked direction. If anything, they seem to have dozens of directions, and ambition to match. If the album's symbology holds any water, I guess that means Drum has beat Mt. Heart Attack. While I still prefer the noise-rock of the second album, this one is weird 'n' wild enough to choke me up like Jimi Hendrix after an all-night drug binge, and that's no lie.