Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Liars: They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top

It's easy to recall 1967-68 as the dawn of Sgt. Pepper's and San Francisco psychedelia, 1976-78 as the journey from proto-punk to new wave, and 1984-85 as the fullest flower of college rock and American punk. Will 2001-02 one day be recalled as another golden era? Between neo-garage and the new New York underground, record stores have been exciting places these past two years, with "gotta hear" bands springing up almost daily–some nowhere near as good as their advance reputation, others better than the limitations of their genre. The New Yorkers have tended to hold up the intellectual side of the new rock, consciously appropriating the angular guitars and staccato rhythms of British post-punk to make a musical comment on the paranoia and isolation of a modern metropolis. The Walkmen, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Radio 4, French Kicks, and The Strokes may spend too much energy recreating old sounds, but they've also revivified the past, interpreting it through their own distinct personalities. Ditto for Interpol, the latest New York act to crank up the echo. The morose band's debut disc, Turn On The Bright Lights, earns the inevitable Joy Division comparison, though Interpol has a lighter lilt to its bass and percussion, and the two guitarists' chiming patterns set the group off on the kind of positivist exploration that the grimly minimalist Joy Division wouldn't have cared to attempt. Lead singer Paul Banks has a heavy, anguished vocal style, cryptically singing bitter lines like "friends don't waste wine when there's words to sell," but up-tempos dominate Turn On The Bright Lights, and Interpol's virtue lies in the way its music unfurls from pinched openings to wide-open codas. The album's highlight among highlights, "Say Hello To The Angels," kicks off with separate stabbing guitar riffs and a freight-train drumroll before breaking into a spry, bass-driven bit of alt-pop, reminiscent of The Smiths and Brian Eno. By the time the song closes with an extended rolling drone, what had seemed initially chilly and obsessive reveals a surprising versatility. Interpol's fellow New Yorkers in Liars also rest their punkish art-rock in the pale, beat-for-beat's-sake funk of the early '80s, but the band has a more slashing and less expansive sound. Liars' debut, They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top, has as much in common with the assaultive likes of Fugazi and Les Savy Fav as it does with U.K. pop deconstruction, and it's grating and electrifying in equal measure. In spite of mouthful titles like "Nothing Is Ever Lost Or Can Be Lost My Science Friend," the songs on Trench tend to be short, skeletal, and tuneless, deriving hooks from sudden, martial drumbursts, repetitive four- or five-note guitar signatures, and the scratchy, distorted howl of singer Angus Andrew. Liars' preference for dissonant atmosphere over music-making comes through most clearly on the 30-minute album-closer "This Dust Makes That Mud," which devolves into an endlessly looping, percussive spiral of controlled feedback. It's the band's scene in a nutshell, all attitude and bludgeon.


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