In 2004, Spin ran one of many disapproving—disgusted?—reviews of Liars' second album, They Were Wrong, So We Drowned. The album departed from the dance-punk angularity of the then-Brooklyn band's debut, They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top. People hated that shit: Spin levied the ultimate "unlistenable" criticism, and Billboard called the album "a huge step backward." Rolling Stone even hauled out the ol' Metal Machine Music punch. Now that's low.
But—for all the name-calling and, admittedly, the album's flaws—Drowned is the most important record in the Liars' canon, at least as far as inner-band evolution goes. Drowned turned its back on the battery-acid guitars and straight syncopation of Monument in favor of, well, soupy nonsense. But it was an absolutely vital step in a long, careful journey, the same journey that culminates in the band's beloved fourth album, Liars. Drowned birthed the guitar-adoration and rhythm-bliss the band perfected on 2006's return to critical glory, Drum's Not Dead.
Drowned didn't match the frenzy of downtown dance-punk touchstone Monument, but it did instigate the dawn of the Liars we know now. It's the band's necessary step away from standard, digestible rock music, and that makes its ambitious return on Liars all the more impressive. When placed into its proper, four-album context, album No. 2 is the sound of a band pursuing its own agenda at all costs. It's a dry run for both the brilliance of Drum and the totality and near-perfection of Liars. It's brave, too. That makes it far beyond unlistenable: In fact, if you want to appreciate this band at all, it's a mandatory listen.
Liars opens for Interpol at Disco Rodeo Sunday, Sept. 16, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25-$27.