Liars

TFCF

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AllMusic Review by

Liars' constant changes came to a peak when Aaron Hemphill departed the band in 2016, leaving Angus Andrew as its sole member. In some ways, TFCF (short for Theme from Crying Fountain) could've been a solo album, but it's more than that: it's a solitary album. Andrew relocated to a remote part of Australia, and he captures the mood of living there as vividly as he did on Liars' Los Angeles-inspired albums Sisterworld and Mess; indeed, the field recordings of his new home add so much character, they may as well be new bandmembers. Solitude allowed Andrew room to ruminate and experiment, and the sonic leaps he makes on TFCF might have taken several albums to accomplish with a fuller band. These sparse, atmospheric songs re-orient themselves constantly: "The Grand Delusional" begins as an eerie campfire song complete with the sounds of the bush, then a woozy drum pattern takes it in a completely different direction. "Coins in My Caged Fist" juxtaposes inscrutable lyrics with emotionally naked ones ("All in all the pattern is lost … you turned on me"), while "Face to Face with My Face" is a claustrophobic hall of mirrors that recalls the suffocating strangeness of Drum's Not Dead. More often, however, Andrew spends TFCF discovering sounds that previous incarnations of Liars somehow never explored, whether it's the oddly majestic psychedelic flamenco of "Cliché Suite" or the brittle piano pop of "No Tree No Branch," one of a streak of surprisingly catchy songs on the album's second half. Amidst all the change, Andrew holds onto some quintessential Liars qualities. "Cred Woes" is the next evolution of the project's snarky art-punk, with Andrew fretting over aging out of the culture wars as a "My Sharona"-like riff briefly stomps through the track, while "Staring at Zero" conjures the band's dead-of-night malevolence. Unexpectedly, many of TFCF's best moments explore Liars' ability to go from menacing to affecting in an instant. The sense of loss, both past and impending, is palpable on fractured ballads like "Emblems of Another Story" and "No Help Pamphlet," which ends with a slowed-down whisper of "I'm thinking of you all the time" that's equally unsettling and bittersweet. The album takes a mournful turn as it ends, with the desolate "Crying Fountain" suggesting that there's more than just disturbing humor to the album cover's image of Andrew as a jilted bride. Above all, it's TFCF's haunting mood that unites its fragments into something true to the outsider perspective at the heart of all of Liars' music.

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