[Hype Hype Hooray] My Annual Defense of Liars’ ‘They Were Wrong So We Drowned’

Every [two weeks?] Jamie Hale takes a long, hard look at the music industry and the blog scene that feeds it. Here, he releases those findings and makes snarky, sarcastic remarks. Admittedly, both Jamie and Knox Road are a part of this scene. So sue us.

You might be familiar with Liars, the three-piece experimental dance/art/punk outfit from New York. You might know their wonderful early track “Mr. Your On Fire Mr.” or 2007 single “Plaster Casts of Everything” or even some of the material off their latest album Sisterworld. You might even like them. “That band, Liars, why they’re just great!” you might say every so often.

If you’ve heard their 2004 sophomore album They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, you might hold a much different opinion. “That band, Liars, why they’re just great! Except that weird witch album, what the hell was that?” you might say. In fact, your opinion would not be unpopular. Rolling Stone gave the album one star out of five, and Spin gave it a big ol’ goose egg.

In an April 2004 Slate article titled “Lying Liars and the Lies They Tell: Why They Were Wrong So We Drowned is the most-hated album of the year,” writer Philip Sherburne puts the negative reception well:

“It’s an object lesson in the risks a band faces in straying from formula at this moment in time—and in the limits of the current critical taste for music with a retro bent. The fact is that They Were Wrong So We Drowned is a spellbinding album, if not one that is easy to listen to.”

After their extraordinarily well-recieved debut, They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, people expected more bass-heavy artistic dance punk. With the departure of two of their initial four members, and the band’s disdain for the idea of genres or pigeon-holing, the sound was bound to change.

So instead of sticking around Williamsburg, Liars relocated to a remote cabin in the woods of New Jersey. After misspelling the title of one of their new songs, “Broken Witch,” in a Google search, they stumbled upon the stories of the Brocken witches of Germany. The town was thought to be home to witches and demons, and several people were brought to trial, primarily in the 15th century.

The band quickly became obsessed and wrote a dark, atmospheric record based on the witch trials (hence the title of the album). The result can be tough on ears looking for something polished and can be disappointing for avid fans of Liars’ first album, but open-minded music fans might just hear something spectacular.

The record evokes feelings similar to those brought forth by The Blair Witch Project, and no, I don’t mean feelings of corny, over-dramatic hype pieces (but great zing!). They Were Wrong takes you to a vast, grey forest, the ground coated in orange and brown leaves, the darkness slowly creeping in, but never fully devouring you. It’s equal parts anger, sadness, pride and regret, but it’s all wrapped up in this nerve-pulling shroud of darkness.

Maybe October 2004 wasn’t the time for They Were Wrong, but this October, nestled in the world of today’s experimental indie, might be the time. Do me a favor: the next time you find yourself walking through the woods this month, pop on They Were Wrong So We Drowned. If it doesn’t simultaneously fascinate and frighten you, then you don’t ever have to listen to it again. Your opinion can join the ranks of Rolling Stone and Spin and that’s fine! But let the album wrap around you, let it tug at the primal chords within you. You might just find yourself a new favorite fall record.

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