Normally, we writers like to throw in some hook early on in a piece to make sure that we've got as many readers as possible hungering to learn more. Why just write about one of America's wacky obsessions when you can write something like this: "Imagine yourself in a spaceship descending down on an undiscovered planet. This planet is populated by creatures that, instead of talking directly to each other, talk into tiny rectangles held up to their faces, seemingly all day and night. No, this isn't some far-distant world. It's Earth, and those rectangles are our cell phones!" I'm fed up with such cleverness, so with this review, I offer a reverse-hook to screen out those who will probably gain nothing from continuing on here. Unless you think of yourself as bland and uninteresting, a man/woman/child with vague pain inflicted by other people and life in general but with no aspirations to hear it expressed it in any but the least interesting terms, a person with a bit of passion but with no qualms about blending into a crowd, read no further -- this is a review of the new Liars Academy album.
Demons, the second LP from this Baltimore quartet, follows on the heels of the 2002 EP Trading My Life, a release which tried to put some distance between the band and their debut, No News is Good News. Theirs was a common problem -- a local act accustomed to making waves in the kiddie pool with professionalism and competence takes a dip in the ocean only to find that the qualities that put them ahead of other bar bands doesn't impress many people blessed with the option of listening to the new Hives disc rather than their paltry offering. Consequently, No News is Good News trotted out to take its place on the scrap heap of history. One senses that since then, the group has redoubled their efforts to justify their existence, but Demons finds them coming up short once again. Not that it's bad, of course; that's never the problem with bands like this. No, the sticking point with these lads is that they simply don't have much to offer the world beyond forty minute exhibitions of their adequacy at writing and performing slick emo. Frontman Ryan Shelkett doesn't sound tortured, despite his occasional attempts at primal scream. He doesn't threaten to burst at the seams. In fact, he doesn't threaten much at all. He politely lays out his... what's the word? "Angst"? "Fury"? "Befuddlement"? In the end, I'm not really sure what he lays out. All I can say is that it tastes vanilla no matter how emphatically the man sings. Say what you will about emo; it at least can usually be relied upon to deliver some readily definable feeling. Strip that away and this is the pudding you're left with.
Lacking a strong center is a tough blow for any band looking to make it big, but it's not necessarily a fatal one. Gomez doesn't have any member their fans dream of becoming when they grow up, but they earn those fans by writing songs good enough to compensate for their lack of charisma. Could it be likewise for Liars Academy? Alas, it's not even close. They sound so remarkably generic that their only consolation is that even the most skilled satirist could find nothing to parody here. Nothing sticks out whatsoever. Their gestures all reek of staleness, and every time they follow their riff-kickin' intro with deferential strum-and-drum to make way for the first verse, the musical gods die a little inside. Liars Academy's best move is their use of staccato bursts of guitars and drums, but it's not enough to redeem the effort, and it's certainly nothing that hasn't been done loads better by a parade of other bands whose work remains easily available at your local record store. Until this changes, you may sleep soundly at night with Demons remaining absent from your life.