While the trio is a fairly standard rock combo, Liars are far frommaking standard rock music. Primal, often atonal and with drums beatingout a single motif rather than yer standard rock ‘beat’, Drum’s NotDead sets out to challenge rather than comfort the listener. Whichmeans you won’t always enjoy it – unless you enjoy the challenge oflistening to deliberately ‘difficult’ music.
The third album from New Yorkers Angus Andrews, Julian Gross andAaron Hemphil (recently located to Berlin apparently – so they can beeven artier, one presumes), features a standard CD length albumaccompanied by a DVD of three films interpreting the music visually. Itmeans you really do get your money’s worth in terms quantity. Whetheryou do in terms of quality really does depend on your taste, becauseLiars are certainly one you need to acquire.
Drum’s Not Dead is a concept album, and as such, follows twofictional characters: Drum and Mount Heart Attack. According to thealbum’s press release; “they are like the Yin and Yang, each a state ofbeing. Drum is assertive and productive, the spirity of creativeconfidence [...] Conversely, Mount Heart Attack is the reaction toDrum’s action, the embodiment of stress and self doubt.” So far, sopretentious. It must be said that while this duality is apparent in therecord – Drum represented by the duelling drums which give poundingworkouts at various points in the record and Mount Heart Attackpresumably represented by the ponderous avant garde sound effects -that’s really as far as any concept goes.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the visual footage explains themusic, but it certainly gives interesting accompaniment. Drum’s NotBread, directed by band member Julian Gross, is perhaps the mostwatchable, combining all kinds of ideas and visuals includinganimations of some rather disturbing looking clay models (presumablyrepresenting the three band members), live and studio shots of the bandin action and some 2D animations, which at one point shows a handtaking off the top of a mountain, putting an ice cream cone inside andreplacing the top. Very Terry Gilliam. Another sequence shows a rathergrimy looking bathroom, with an animated, anthropomorphicisedtoothbrush.
The other two films offer alternative visions of the music; By YourSide (directed by non-band member Markus Wambsganss) is moreexperimental in its special effects animations which also combine stopmotion with graphics and live footage. The Helix Aspersa (directed byAngus Andrew), on the other hand, is a long and ponderous film of asnail on a window sill (without wishing to be reductive, that isliterally all it is).
All of which should illustrate that the nature of this album isessentially more art project than album. What it also shows, however, isthat the music really is too bare to stand up on its own. With twodrummers and a frontman whose guitar playing relies more on weirdeffects than playing, and a vocal style which is deliberately mumblingand dissonant, there’s not really enough creativity or diversity instyle or form to maintain a whole album. While some of the tracks arepretty powerful, after not too long the lack of any discernable tunestarts to grate.
This becomes ever more painfully apparent after watching threevideos interpreting the same tracks; I did eventually begin to wishthey’d taken a little more effort making some better-crafted musicrather than spending time filming close-ups of themselves shaving, forexample. There is a point at which experimentalism crosses over intoself indulgent pretentiousness, and in the case of Drum’s Not Dead, alittle less navel gazing could have gone a long way.