Sound — 5
If there's a universal truth to Liars, it's that they really do like to experiment. With six albums (not including "Mess") under their belt, their discography is very diverse, and each album is a distant jump from one style of composition to another. With their recent album, "WIXIW," Liars decided to heavily incorporate electronic elements into the composition, and was well-received by critics, addressing that it invoked a mid-era Radiohead feel to it. Now, with their seventh album, "Mess," Liars decided to jump further into the electronic side of things.
From the beginning with "Mask Maker" and "Vox Turned D.E.D.," you immediately pick up a She Wants Revenge vibe from the album, with songs being dominated by synths and drum machines, and frontman Angus Andrew's vocals being delivered in a stark, low tone and heavily-equipped with effects. This format/style starts to get repetitive by the third song, "I'm No Gold," and the fact that it's a six minute song certainly doesn't help. Fortunately, the next song, "Pro Anti Anti," breaks the monotony with an industrial/Nine Inch Nails-esque flavor - equipped with heavy-sounding percussion and loud, buzzy analog synthlines. Unfortunately, the breath of energy gets eliminated with the next song, "Can't Hear Well," which takes a minimal approach with one wavy lead synth-line, some bass tones later on, filtered vocals, and nothing else; and despite being only three minutes long, the lack of complexity and progression makes the minutes feel like an eternity. "Mess on a Mission" brings the album back to a more energetic pace, and the traditional new wave style of the song bears resemblance to the likes of Devo. "Darkslides" gets pretty experimental, with nice sub bass and peculiar tribal noises playing throughout, but the song ends up getting overindulgent with experimentation and soon becomes a hodgepodge of sound. "Boyzone" continues down the deeply experimental path, with fuzzy bass, peculiar noises and eerie vocals, but once again, there's a lack of progression in the song that ends up rendering it boring after a couple minutes. "Dress Walker" goes back to the darkwave/indietronica style found in the beginning of the album, but this song in particular- equipped with glitchy clicks, smooth bass, vocoded vocals and complex synth leads- offers a more refreshing moment to an otherwise uneventful album. "Perpetual Village" goes back to the abstract experimental style with dark atmospheric sounds sweeping over a murky bass-line, but at almost nine minutes long, the song really drags on. "Left Speaker Blown" closes the album as a serene experimental song without any percussion and a medley of sounds, including guitar feedback, bass tones, violins and more, and while it progresses at a snail's pace, it does indeed progress. The song still suffers from a poor judgment of length - clocking in at almost seven minutes, while the composition certainly doesn't stay interesting for that long.
Lyrics — 5
Whether the choice to drape opaque effects on Angus Andrew's vocals was a musical preference or an effort to make lyrics tough to grasp, they're as clear as Hong Kong smog. Once you start flexing the eardrums, you can pick up on some of Andrew's lyrics that contain abstract but discerning comments on reailty (like "don't knock on the way they go to war/you'll never play that fantasy again" in "Can't Hear Well" and "endless monotony dulls all alternatives/life is long, way too long" in "Perpetual Village") and some that come off more nonsensical (like "is there no better place to die?" in "Boyzone" and "trash the books the films are based on" in "Mess on a Mission"). Though the nonsensical factor is most likely intentional in order to fit the chaotic demeanor of the album and is supposed to be commendable to the theme of it all, it's hard not to laugh when you hear Andrew say the lyric "I hope you never learn to play music" in his tranquilized tone of voice in "Left Speaker Blown," and the difficulty of lyrical comprehension is more likely to warrant a "what's he saying" in annoyance rather than in intrigue.
Overall Impression — 4
While the previous album, "WIXIW," had been the most experimental album in their repertoire by utilizing more synthesizer elements than conventional rock instruments, "Mess" takes it a step further, and strays away from orthodox characteristics of songwriting. The ending result is very alienating, and travels far from anything really enjoyable. If you're looking for a down-to-earth album with conventional elements, this album is the near antithesis of that - and while that statement alone doesn't necessarily connote something negative (thinking outside the box has warranted a plethora of amazing things), "Mess" does a poor job grabbing you with its peculiarity. Instead, it makes you count down the seconds to which you can move on to the next song; and with the album being nearly an hour long, it's exhausting to listen to from front to back, and offers very little payoff for that near-hour spent.