Liars’ tenth studio album, The Apple Drop, finds frontman Angus Andrew collaborating with multi-instrumentalist Cameron Deyell, jazz drummer Laurence Pike, and lyricist Mary Pearson Andrew. The resulting recordings by the Australian-American art punk outfit are a dark collection of electronically tinged grooves that provide a moody backdrop for Angus’ foreboding poetry and sonorous vocals.
The Apple Drop opens with the appropriately titled “The Start”. The song works as a decent primer for everything that follows, as, much like the rest of the album, the track is a 50/50 hybrid of traditional rock instrumentation and synthetically created electronic weirdness. Pike’s drumming is wonderful on the record’s opening number as he hammers out emotive fills, never once repeating himself. Meanwhile, Angus eases us in with sustained moments which are at one point echoed by an eerie backing chorus that somehow manages to sound simultaneously angelic and demonic.
The record’s first two songs have a similarly tense, woozy tone, and it isn’t until the excellent single “Sekwar” arrives that The Apple Drop begins to reveal itself. Amidst bouncy bloops and bleeps that ping-pong from left to right, Pike beats out a jagged rhythm while an angular lead guitar riff follows Angus’ patiently delivered pronouncements. “They tell me I’m a juiced up, worn-out sad sack, and they can’t figure out what I’m trying to do here, except stand around and be a dick,” Andrew sing-speaks like a world-weary guttersnipe. The song is an exceptional moment that’s not far removed from what one might imagine potentially coming from a collaboration between Nick Cave and Trent Reznor.
Things are brightened slightly tone-wise midway through the record with the arrival of “From What the Never Was”. Here, Andrew’s vocals take on a higher register and his approach is somewhat gentler than everything that’s come before. The spookily majestic “Star Search” follows, opening side B. The track’s initial instrumental bombast is somewhat reminiscent of Seer-era Swans before its final minute when it turns deceptively into an idiosyncratic call and response accompanied only by a sparse piano. The song is followed by another standout moment with the darkly cool “My Pulse to Ponder”. The track is a badass piece of gothic dance rock made complete with a snake charmer-like lead guitar line, a rat-a-tat snare drum, and Angus Andrew punctuating each verse with the shouted line, “I’ll cut your throat!”
The last third of The Apple Drop finds Angus and company taking on what might only be described as psychedelic lounge rock with “King of the Crooks”. The album is then concluded in much the same way it opened, with a pairing of songs not far removed in spirit from one another. The atonally droning “Acid Crop” culminates in a nightmarish sonic finale that has Andrew sleepily repeating, “I’ve heard it all before,” after which the record’s last two and a half minutes are eaten by the avant-garde jazz piece, “New Planets New Undoings”, which, thanks in large part to its brevity, comes across more like an addendum to its predecessor.
The Apple Drop is a moody trip. That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable. Much like the cover art conveys, the entire listening experience feels not unlike being led into and through a creepy, shadowy underworld with only Angus Andrew’s fiercely volatile voice occasionally tempered just sweetly enough to assure you everything’s going to work out okay in the end. Liars’ latest album is an emotionally uncompromising thrill ride, one worth taking if you have a penchant for the dark unknown.