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Making a Connection 

After reaching a stunning critical low, the Liars find themselves back on the rise

After releasing their debut, 2001's brilliant and fevered dance-punk manifesto They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, New York's Liars were nearly invincible. In celebration, they toured relentlessly and recorded 2004's homage to witch trials, They Were Wrong So We Drowned, an album of electronic din and madcap percussion that famously received the lowest possible scores from both Spin and Rolling Stone.

With no expectations or apparent ability to further shock critics and fans, Liars did the next logical thing and released a single, "It Fit When I Was a Kid"--a slab of echoed vocal chants and fractured drum assaults--which featured doctored cover art of the three bandmates (Angus Andrew, Julian Gross, and Aaron Hemphill) engaging in hard-core pornography with each other. Andrew--one of Karen O's famous ex-boyfriends--explained, quite logically, the motive behind the sultry cover.

"We were looking into making a pop-up book for a single, and the label told us that would be too expensive, so we thought that we would see if they would like a picture of the three of us sort of getting jiggy, and they really liked it," Andrew said. "In the end, it kind of encapsulates the idea of being in a band and how it's like marriage almost. You do everything with each other; eat, drink, and sleep together, but we haven't had sex yet, so I think that was something we were trying to look at."

After playfully examining the romantic possibilities within the band, the Liars released Drum's Not Dead this past March. The album was packed with enough warm and dark percussive sounds to shoot the band right back into the good graces of critics and fans alike. Strangely, the album is overall more akin to They Were Wrong So We Drowned than the group's adored debut. Still, the band learned from their mistakes and made the appropriate adjustments.

"I think in a way, we made a pretty conscientious effort after Drowned to try to make more of a connection with the audience," Andrew said. "We learned from Drowned that people, if they can't make a connection, then they stop listening to it, and I think we were trying to help people listen to some more interesting music but not freak them out too hard."

Mission accomplished. Drum's Not Dead is both the most rewarding and challenging album of the band's career. With tribal drumming, ethereal soundscapes and Andrew's barked/moaned/crooned vocals, the group created an album that is equal parts shoegazing and horror-film soundtrack. Also, as geographical muses go, it didn't hurt to record and test the new material in the apparently tastemaking landscape of Eastern Europe.

"Basically we did a lot of touring while we were recording," Andrew said. "So, we would make some songs and then go tour in Eastern Europe and then come back and record those songs and then have another go at touring. And basically, we did our touring in a lot of places we'd never been before, like far, far Eastern Europe."

Recorded in a Berlin radio facility, the album boasts an in-depth exploration of their environment--with many of the songs recorded in different rooms, each offering different acoustic possibilities. The band learned a thing or two about the mixing and post-production processes by piecing it all together--Andrew even earned producer credits for the album.

As ragtag as this recording and production style may sound, the album's flow and sound are seamless, and bound by perhaps the album's most interesting discoveries: its dueling characters, Drum and Mount Heart Attack.

"Really, it was like after we recorded, we wanted to figure out a way to explain the process of recording and really the way it works--because Aaron and I work so separately, it's difficult for us to always be very confident and instinctual about what we're making," Andrew said. "So, on one day, one of us will be very hesitant and unsure of ourselves, kind of like a heart attack, and one of us will feel very confident and instinctual--like the drum and those sort of characteristics revolved between us and allowed certain songs to get in and certain songs not to."

Not only is Drum's Not Dead an explosive aural experience; it's also a visual one. It comes packaged with a DVD containing three feature-length visual versions of the album. The band is currently banging out their manic live show across the States before working on their next project (another album + DVD affair).

"We finish touring in September, and I want to try and get to work after that," Andrew said. "Hopefully, we'll find an interesting place to record and then move there."

We were just thinking how lovely Tucson can be in September ...

More by Michael Petitti

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