Continuing to explore the noise rock/prog rock fusion they pioneered with They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, Liars return with another concept album, Drum's Not Dead. The idea behind this album is even more abstract than They Were Wrong's conflation of witch trials and pagan rituals: Drum's Not Dead revolves around the yin-yang relationship of two forces in the creative process, personified as Mt. Heart Attack (who represents stress and self-doubt) and Drum (the embodiment of creative energy and productivity). While this is an intriguing concept, unfortunately the actual music doesn't always live up to it. Drum's Not Dead borrows pages from the urban-pagan, atmospherically noisy playbooks of both Black Dice and Animal Collective, although the album isn't as evocative as the former band's work nor as cuddly-weird as the latter's. Nothing here is nearly as abrasive, or immediate, as "There's Always Room on the Broom" -- throughout the album, Liars stay away from their comfort zone of dynamic noise-rock. This "quiet is the new loud" philosophy is admirable, but too often, Drum's Not Dead sounds oddly blurred and subdued. Interestingly enough for an album that uses mountains as a motif, its terrain is actually more like a valley, starting and ending with powerful tracks and dipping sharply in the middle. Drum's Not Dead begins with "Be Quiet Mt. Heart Attack," which is not only the album's best track, but one of the finest things Liars have ever done. With dark, shimmering guitars that recall EVOL-era Sonic Youth and minimal but monumental drumming, it's full of beauty and brooding that is immediately exploded by the growling drones and heavy, tribal polythrhythms of "Let's Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack," which conjures up images of fiery, twirling drumsticks and sinister rites. It's tempting to say that Drum's Not Dead gets its point across in just the first two tracks, but that would ignore how well "To Hold You, Drum" mixes noise and whispery negative space and sets up the album's surprisingly sweet, hopeful resolution, "The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack," which also ranks among the band's finest work. They Were Wrong, So We Drowned might have been too densely packed with ideas and sounds, but Drum's Not Dead errs in the opposite direction: too many tracks feel like variations on the album's themes that don't really go anywhere. Though there are many moments of primal energy (the eerie, hypnotic taunting of "Hold You Drum," "Drum and the Uncomfortable Can"'s climactic doom) and beauty (the flowing water and brooding melody on "The Wrong Coat for You Mt. Heart Attack," "A Visit from Drum"'s expansive guitars and emotional vulnerability), they never quite jell into something that goes beyond being momentarily impressive. Drum's Not Dead is undeniably interesting, but somehow unsatisfying; arguably the best thing about it is how it shows Liars are willing to keep pushing themselves into unknown creative territory, even if the results aren't always consistently great.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2