Liars: We Fenced Other Gardens with the Bones of Our Own

[14 July 2004]

By Katie Zerwas

They’re smart. They’re bold. They’re creepy as hell. They’re Liars, and they probably don’t make the kind of music you’re used to hearing. In fact, they probably don’t make the kind of music you’ve ever heard before in your life. And, if their second single from their recently released album They Were Wrong, So We Drowned is any indication, they will stop at nothing to get us all good and freaked out. The single features the album track “We Fenced Other Gardens with the Bones of Our Own”, which should give you an idea of what sort of cult-like devil worship we’re really dealing with here. That said, this is the least bizarre and terrifying track. This track, at least, has melody. Also laying in wait is a demonically possessed cover of the Germ’s “Sex Boy”, a sadistic soundscape entitled “The Fountain and its Monologue”, and if you allow the disc to penetrate your computer you will find videos for each of the three tracks, all equally spooky in a B-movie sort of way. Their music is challenging, smart, and on the edge of something awesome. On the other hand, listening to it isn’t exactly a walk in the park, and if this is your first introduction to the seedy underworld of no-wave noise-istas the Liars, then heed this warning: Either turn back while there’s still time, or grit your teeth and take it.

The single has the feel of a warm handshake followed by a kick in the shins. The title track opens with a primitive, dirge-like beat and the vaguely melodic rhythmic scratchings of some unidentifiable object. The vocals begin a slow ethereal chant whose dry and witty lyrics take the shape of a mantra for an ironic age. Spooky as it is, the chant becomes enticing and strangely beautiful, tapping into some lost vestigial remains of something darker in the human spirit, something that longs for a release from the monotony of post-modernity’s squeaky clean soundtrack. The song is irresistibly dreamy and light, yet dark and menacing. It is musical without being melodic, smart without being indulgent. It is a riddle wrapped in an enigma that will latch onto your frontal lobe with a death grip from which not even the jaws of life cannot rescue you.

On the other hand, it is possible that the following track might just shake your brain loose from its cranial cavity. The Liars’ cover of “Sex Boy” sounds like listening to a tape that someone accidentally dropped into a blender. Somewhere on this track someone is screaming some excessively angsty lyrics while the traditional punk band line-up is throwing around their anemic girth, as is their custom, accenting each and every goose-stepping beat. However, in the Liars’ universe the band is nothing but static, its musical and human qualities totally lost in the fray. They present the punk rock cliché, with all its aggression and destruction, and beat them at their own game. By creating a version of the song that is even harder, even more twisted and inhuman, they destroy the cliché, elevating it well beyond the bounds of all known aestheticism. They put punk on a pedestal and, like a piece of contemporary found art, proceed to piss on it.

The final track on the single takes yet another about face. Rather than a whirlwind noise explosion, “The Fountain and its Monologue” is merely a low-fi soundscape. Barely detectable synthesized drones fade in and out as the song develops slowly and wordlessly, so quiet it barely seems to realize its own existence. A tentative drum beats arhythmically off in the distance, and the breathy synths continue their trembling tattoo, like gentle breezes through the metallic forest of a post-apocalyptic landscape. At least, that’s the imagery I got, but you might see something else. The Liars apparently saw medieval religious iconography depicting the devil and his worshippers, since that’s what is featured in their homemade video for the track. A bit campy, sure, but not that farfetched. Then, there’s the video for “We Fenced Other Gardens with the Bones of Our Own,” directed by Karen O (AKA Marshmellow) of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. If you thought Ms. O was unstable before, wait’ll you see this. Shot with the kind of skill and sophistication you might expect from high school students, the video for the song takes full advantage of available resources such as animal costumes, copious quantities of fake blood, and low budget editing tricks, not to mention animated glowing red eyes and fire breathing. Occult? Maybe. Hilarious? Yes. Although, not as gut-busting as the sophomoric humor featured in the video for “Sex Boy”, which hinges upon the theme of what happens when giant animated animals and magazine cut-out people get together for a Technicolor parade of silliness.

The music, and most certainly the videos, are not always top of the line art-music, but on this single the Liars demonstrate that they have something most musical acts these days seem to lack. Their refusal to submit a coherent vision of themselves, to be either serious or funny, either prog or hardcore, proves them to be totally unafraid of how they will be perceived by the music scene. They have no fear, and thus, they deserve all the fear we can give them. The Liars are a formidable band, with world domination on the brain. If they’ve already brainwashed you, you’ll love the single. If not, take some valium, and pull up a chair.

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