After months of drooling anticipation, Liars have unloaded a large, mysterious object into the dying fire of pretentiousness. And while it is moderately intriguing to hear those flames crackle again afresh, it is doubtful either fans or haters expected a sophomore album as stubborn and abstruse as They Were Wrong, So We Drowned.

The debut They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, an arguable classic, was not exactly accessible either, but its precocious concoction of bizarre art-funk freak-outs, wonderfully detached lyrics, and that ESG sample, plus a towering Australian frontman distinguished the band from 2001's dance-punk crop, notably the Rapture and !!!. The fact that Liars recorded such schizoid fire in two days meant that a more invested followup would constitute the stuff of rock dreams, or given the album's much publicized theme of witchcraft and human sacrifice, fantastic nightmares.

But instead Liars have focused on covering up the critical pigeonholes of yesteryear, and by doing so they have misplaced much of what made them so compelling. Where prior tantrums of abstract noise and sporadic beats were once unleashed in a whimsical punk urgency, such raw percussion and piercing shards are now front-and-center à la Wolf Eyes. Not that a provocative young act of this caliber shouldn't experiment, but the absences of drummer Ron Albertson and bassist Pat Nature, both of whom have left the group, haunt the proceedings. From the opener "Broken Witch," a pointless pipe beating, to the dire drive of "Hold Hands and It Will Happen Anyway," nothing here flows with spontaneity.

Ostensibly this flatlining numbness attempts to complement the litter of Wicca-babble, but rarely is it exciting or effective in conjuring such spooky ambience -- or any ambience. Before birds inexplicably begin chirping in the last minutes, cabin fever brought about from sheer boredom has set in. Who knew Liars had it in them? They did.

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Hunter Stephenson