There’s an urban legend maintaining that if Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon is played in synchronicity with the film The Wizard Of Oz, the two function as mirror images of the same surreal dream, complete with the odd coincidental passage that would seem perfectly plausible if you were properly “influenced.” (Folklore or not, “Brain Damage” playing at precisely the same moment the Scarecrow sings “If I Only Had A Brain” is a bit creepy.)
But what if Dorothy’s understudy was a snail and the film documented her slimy crawl up a staircase? Or if Oz’s quartet was replaced by three Claymation figures resembling Wallace and Gromit? Or if Monty Python’s stream-of-consciousness animation—complete with flying, rotating slices of toast—was introduced when the movie migrates to color?
If you’re receiving the message that Liars’ third album, Drum’s Not Dead (Mute), is as much a cinematic experience as a musical one, it’s not accidental. The record’s 12 songs are accompanied by a DVD of three 45-minute videos conceived by the band and award-winning German filmmaker Markus Wambsganss (Lightning Bolts And Man Hands).
“When we started dabbling in video, one of the most exciting things was to try to animate a part of the story and match that to music,” says Liars frontman Angus Andrew, a former art-school student and Brooklyn post-punk scene refugee now residing in Berlin. “It’s great that you’re always gonna get a certain feeling listening to this particular piece of music. But on the other hand, there’s the fact that the music is permanently solidified with these images. I guess it’s all to do with the idea of trying to reconfigure the album and how it works. I’m surrounded by people who are obsessed with records, with iTunes downloads, with whether the album will survive as an art form. Should we be looking at it as something more than a collection of singles? Hopefully, artists will start taking responsibility for their art again.”
Judging from the contents of Drum’s Not Dead (a vaguely conceptual work featuring two conflicting characters, Drum and Mt. Heart Attack), it would seem Andrew’s argument about creative freedom is a timely one. Nothing about the band’s third album remotely resembles Liars’ previous output. Drum’s Not Dead is melodic where 2004’s They Were Wrong, So We Drowned is dissonant, sounding like Adam And The Ants backing PiL while exploring the more obscure corners of the Brian Eno catalog.
According to Andrew, Drum’s Not Dead was the trio’s most difficult endeavor. Liars shelved a first attempt at recording it, then decamped to Berlin to jump-start the whole process. In much the same way as albums created in Berlin by David Bowie (1977’s experimental Low) and U2 (1991’s shape-shifting Achtung Baby), Drum’s Not Dead is the result of a change of scenery.
“I’m not from the U.S.,” says the Filipino-by-birth, Australian-by-upbringing Andrew. “So it’s not instinctual for me to call it home. For me, there was more that could be brought forward creatively by living in a building with bullet holes in it. Here in Europe, I’m surveying the carcass of war. The possibility of going to live in a country where the views are different—and where I could live year-round for a quarter of the price of New York—was refreshing in all aspects.”