Born Liars, Fast Songs Is All We Know
Just when I think I’ve got the Born Liars all figured out, have ’em pegged down neatly on the Great Big Board of Bands as a no-frills garage-punk band and not much else — and hell, that’s great right there — they go and change on me.
Okay, so they didn’t change, really, so much as mutate. Don’t worry; in spite of the title of new LP Fast Songs Is All We Know, the band hasn’t shifted gears entirely and gone hardcore or speed metal or anything like that. It’s more like they’re expanding the range of the garage/punk/retro-rock realm they encompass, bringing in sounds and influences that fit perfectly but weren’t in there before.
Take “Find Me in Church,” for one of the primary examples; unlike the band’s last full-length, Ragged Island, “Church” pulls in a strangely out-West feel, kind of a lonesome, windswept sound that’s quite a bit different from the flat-out, garage-y stuff. That same pseudo-country thing lurks beneath the surface on a lot of the tracks here, to my ears, from “Back Where I Belong” (which has some holy-shit-that’s-cool guitar, courtesy of frontman/guitarist Jimmy Sanchez and fellow guitarist Charles Larrabee) to “Move Right In” (which rides a Ventures-esque main riff and sounds dusty and countryish). The band comes off less citified and urban, drifting closer to that weird backwater that is country-punk.
There’re other oddball moments on here, too, mind you. “Poverty Cheque” is a bluesy roar with a nice walking bassline, and what it makes me think of more than anything else is London Caling-era Clash; then there’s “Zero for Conduct,” which sounds like good, old-fashioned garage-rock…at least ’til about two-thirds of the way through, when it implodes (albeit briefly) into a glimmering shower of chiming guitar drone, the kind of thing you’d expect more on, say, an Archers of Loaf album. It makes sense that the song ends Side A of the LP, throwing a cool little wrench into the gears right when you think you know what’s coming next.
And then, there’s “Ain’t No Crime,” which ditches the backwoods (of the Dirty South or the Sonics-y Northwest, whichever) in favor of a messy, unkempt (but still serene) beach somewhere no tourist in their right mind ever goes. The song is weirdly surfy and slower-paced, with some guitar parts that are almost (gasp) pretty, for crying out loud — listened to all on its own, and you’d be hard-pressed to guess that it’s a Born Liars song. That is, until the end, when the track steadily builds into grimier, faster rawk…
Of course, these cool little chunks of stylistic experimentation — assuming that’s what it is, anyway — don’t mean that the band’s raw, fiery, bitter core is changed in the slightest. The album starts off with the sneering/shrugging self-assessment of “Fractured,” where Sanchez sounds like he’s not exactly bragging about being fucked-up but isn’t ashamed of it, either. There’s “Ain’t Livin Today,” a close cousin to Island‘s “Don’t Tell Me I Know,” and “Tropical Denver,” which kicks off Side B with a fresh dose of garage-punk.
The album ends on an note that’s perfectly appropriate for these guys with “Get Out of Denver,” a real-live barnburner of a song that plays like Chuck Berry on bad meth and paints the picture of a band on the run from the party-hating arm of the law. Here’s hoping they make it out and get out on the road again; I’m already ready for ’em to throw another curve ball.