With records as varied as the riotous They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top and the ethereal Drum's Not Dead, Liars have become expected to do the unexpected with each release. And now, two years after their dark foray into the electronic side of things, the Los Angeles-based trio are back with Mess, and it is, of course, nothing like its predecessor.
Where 2012's WIXIW was a meticulous thing — a collection of tracks carefully crafted like a essayist's first poem — Mess relies on instinct, following instead the doctrine of "write drunk, edit sober."
In fact, for their seventh album — which is streaming now via NPR — "planning" wasn't really in their vocabulary. With one electronic effort under their belt, they were able to strip out the uncertainty — resulting in 12 dance-driven tracks that frontman Angus Andrew calls "more instinctual, free-flowing," and, quite simply, "more fun."
"The record started to develop without any real sense that it was going to be a record," frontman Andrew told MTV News. "With WIXIW, it took us a really long time to make it, and we sort of deliberated over and over, and this one we kinda just wanted to be more spontaneous."
You get that feeling of spontaneity, chaos and, well, mess, looking at the record's vinyl packaging — covered in a jumble of rainbow-colored yarn.
It's an image they've been using in the four long months leading up to Mess' March 25 release. The wig-like wad of yarn has been the darling of their Instagram account. They pose with it, they take it to the playground, they put it in their underwear and, most recently, they plaster it over traffic signs and billboards all over Los Angeles.
And apart from being a promotional prop, it's also a chaotic yet graceful image that's found throughout Mess' 12 tracks, like the aptly titled lead single, "Mess on a Mission."
"I think right off the bat it was wanting it to be a very vibrant visual sort of cover to complement the music too, which we felt is very vibrant and more based on aesthetics than this heavy concept we've had in the past," drummer Julian Gross said. "We always get a theme of something and then just keep on playing with it and see how far you can expand this idea and theme. When we agreed on the cover image, it became fun too for all of us to explore how you can expand this idea and how far you can get with it and other ways to manipulate it to sort of create this identity through the whole thing."
So what exactly does it all mean? What mission is the mess on? Well, according to Aaron Hemphill, that part's up to the listener to decide.
"I think it's an issue of perspective," Hemphill said, adding that the album's imagery also reflects their more organic recording process this time around. "You focus on something that is a clutter and it stands outside of the environment it's within and you're forced to somehow make sense of it. You focus all your time and energy... focusing on this mess of strands entertangled and really trying to make sense of it until it's so focused that how can it be deemed haphazard."
Mess is out on March 25 on Mute Records.