The booklet that accompanies They Were Wrong, So We Drowned -- either the second or fourth Liars album, depending on your epistemology -- contains a series of broadly stroked, dull-colored pencil drawings: A horns-and-cape devil oversees a pagan fire dance; a series of brooms; a goat dancing for a pig; a horse and Winnie the Pooh; a girl touching a boy's hand. In style and content, these "liner notes" read as much like storyboard sketches for a film as for any modern Brooklyn-rock album -- maybe a lost concepting of Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate, or some not-far-off Lars von Trier paganism mini-series.
Or, more likely, a sort of Williamsburg Blair Witch Project: On grainy video we follow a rising-star band as it passes through a dimensional gate and winds up in an alternate universe in which pop experimentalists are thrown into the river to determine their derivativeness -- if you float, you're just following the trends.
That's Liars, a band nearly destroyed by its own unwanted -- perhaps unwarranted -- success when its music accidentally fell in line with the Gang of Four/Pop Group revival. On the debut They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, Liars was the pretentious cousin to Radio 4's and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' -- umm -- pretentiousness. Liars songs had the thousand-word stare, lyrical and titular slobbering, and unlikely groove of their predecessors: "Anthrax," "She Is Beyond Good and Evil," etc. But they also had something else: a musical and lyrical complexity that went beyond the New York phenomenon's paint-by-numbers norm.
They Were Wrong takes that originality to its completely erratic-yet-logical end -- when there's groove, it's more a pagan-beat race-memory than a disco-punk live sample; when there are guitars, they're pain and feedback, not "angular" or "treble-heavy"; when there are samples and electro crashes, they are meant to pummel the song, not complement it. This isn't The Fall's Live At The Witch Trials; this is simply a live recording from Liars' real, actual witch trials. It's frightening, not just because it's different from anything Liars has done before, but because of the statement happening here: We will not be pigeonholed, even if it means burning our own musical background at the stake, on record, for all to hear.
They Were Wrong, So We Drowned is at times atmospherically eerie ("We Fenced Other Gardens With the Bones of Our Own" with its twisted "take your cauldron / and get down"), at other times forcefully, unrepentantly physical ("There's Always Room on the Broom"). And while it's not always brilliant, it's fair to say that it's the best album Liars could've possibly made: Anything else would've gotten the band pegged as some kind of trendy one-trick pony or treasonous media whore, which, it seems obvious, would've made the whole being-in-a-band business suicidally uninteresting. Not to mention that, should Liars succeed in garnering the same indie-mainstream attention that Trench/Monument did, the doors that would open for scary weirdo sound would make things very interesting -- at least until next time.