[6 July 2010]
Sisterworld, the fifth release from Liars, is an album rife with illusion. “The Overachievers”, Sisterworld‘s second single, may be the most illusive song on it. One of the punkiest cuts from the band’s entire catalog, it is a character scribble of some earth-conscious folks who drive a bio-car that sounds like “a walrus / with ulcers” and who give up on their day jobs, only to end up sitting in front of the tube.
The aimlessness of the narrative is conveyed not in a drone but in an aggressive yammer by Liars frontman Angus Andrew. Thus, the song is twofold ironic. Content-wise, it presents a story of a couple who don’t do very much, in spite of living in a song with a title indicating ambition and drive. Secondly, the song is a breakneck assault, equipped with a chorus of “L!A!” shouted in a way beseeching a riot.
Returning to the former irony, a second interpretation could see it as really not being ironic at all. The song’s titular characters drive the aforementioned wheezy bio-car, surf in Malibu so as to better see the stars, and quit their jobs to go walking through forests: all activities that are environmentally ambitious. What for? In the end we see the couple in the same place as when the song began, getting high in front of the television. They have gone out of their way to accomplish nothing. The whole of Sisterworld takes place in L.A. In a way very different from other songs on the album, “The Overachievers” showcases the way in which this deceptive city renders its various inhabitants futile.
All of these interpretations could be deemed bosh when Devendra Banhart and the Grogs’ seizing of the track is taken into account. Although more indicative of the idle lives of its characters, Banhart’s version still keeps a semblance of the sinister well in tact. Andrew’s shouts have been muffled in duct tape, reducing the “LA” rants of the chorus to a Quaalude hum, suggesting that even the seemingly inert citizens of the city are concealing something.
Accompanying the single and reimagining are two new Liars tracks, “Pleasure Is Boss” and “Only Sometimes.” Although one “the” short of sharing its name with a Die Haut song featuring vocals from Nick Cave, the former is very much a Liars song and very much a B-side, impenetrable and just vaguely memorable. “Only Sometimes”, drony in a way that relates more to shoegaze than deviousness, would feel more at home on Liars’ more straightforward self-titled fourth album. Still, the song is slightly reminiscent of the earlier lo-fi output from Beck, another LA resident who has concerned himself more with the city’s underlying decomposition than glittery surface.
The Overachievers’ central focus is still very much the dark underside of Liars’ current habitation, offering little hint as to what will intrigue the band and its devotees next. With Sisterworld, Liars achieved the impressive feat of “going LA” while retaining the artiness they are known for. Such respectable creators as David Lynch and Nathanael West have done the same thing. Although Liars aren’t quite at that level yet, they really aren’t striving to emulate any forebears who tackled similar subject matter either. As a result, Liars aren’t trying to overachieve, they are simply doing their own thing. Listeners of music that challenges should be thankful.