The itinerant trio of Angus Andrew, Aaron Hemphill, and Julian Gross — collectively known as Liars — has always embraced the music of wherever the band's home base happened to be at the moment. When they emerged amid the nascent Brooklyn noise-rock scene in 2001 with their debut, They Threw Us in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, they deployed loops from beloved NYC postpunk group ESG and the then-in-vogue sound of dance-punk to nefarious ends. When they split from their rhythm section and their home country, landing in Berlin, they reveled in the trance-inducing rhythms endemic to that metropolis, a sound that reached its apex on 2006's Drum's Not Dead.
Now comes the straight-ahead (though still stumbling) rock of Liars, which finds the band relocated in Los Angeles. Befitting the coastal move is the constant "Surfin' Bird" tom-thud and pipeline guitar twang of songs like "Freak Out," while "Plaster Casts of Everything" is the band's finest dose of acid-flash skate thrash. Here, the band that's spent two albums eschewing rock actually embraces songs and riffs wholeheartedly. Regardless of the new sound and surroundings, Liars remain as alien, briny, and strung-out as anyone on John from Cincinnati.
Weirder than a return to the rock, though, is the diversion into synth-pop this time around, with "Houseclouds" deploying a puttering drum machine and falsetto that wouldn't sound out of place coming from Beck circa Midnight Vultures. In sharp contrast, on "What Would They Know," the band sounds more zombiefied than even Iggy Pop was circa The Idiot, which, of course, was recorded in the benumbed climes of Berlin.