Albums Best Heard Together: Drums Not Dead and Deceit

Written on July 22, 2008 at 10:45 am, by Alfonso Surroca

Liars has become a darling of the indie world, especially after their 2006 record, Drums Not Dead—look no further than Pitchfork Media’s glowing review for confirmation. Their drum-based, drone-filled sound doesn’t make for an easy listen, and sounds nothing like the hacks that fill the indie landscape lately. Drums Not Dead is almost perfect, but it’s also been done before.

Album art for This Heat-Deceit (1981)Album cover for Liars-Drums Not Dead (2006)

See, while you’ve probably already heard of Liars (the band opened for Radiohead during their 2008 North American tour), it’s much less likely that you’ve ever heard of This Heat. And Liars’ entire sound is essentially the application of a fresh coat of paint on a 1981 masterpiece by the name of Deceit.

Rather than accuse Liars of ripping off the forgotten 70s-era post-punk band This Heat, I choose to believe that Liars is paying homage to This Heat unless I find out otherwise. If you’ve heard Deceit, you’ll find Drums Not Dead definitely comes from the same place. Both records open with un-threatening, almost peaceful tracks, then pull the rug out and launch into tracks filled with menacing drum lines, screaming, and a caustic, off-balance feel that continues through the remainder of each.

That’s not to say that either record is a chore to listen to. On Deceit: “Cenotaph”, with its Joy Division-esque sound, would have made a fine single in 1981 (less so today; maybe on satellite radio), “Makeshift Swahili” is the most punk-like track on the record, and “A New Kind of Water” morphs from a beautiful, droning anthem into a proper rock song. And on Drums Not Dead, “Let’s Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack” is likely to be a signature Liars song for a while—when I saw them open for Radiohead in West Palm Beach, it was their set opener. “Drums Gets a Glimpse” is a slower, pretty track that wouldn’t be out of place on a Broken Social Scene record.

It’s interesting that where I heard a little of This Heat’s contemporaries such as Can and Joy Division (and on one track, perhaps Dead Can Dance) in their record, I heard a little of Liars’ own contemporaries such as (in addition to Broken Social Scene) The Microphones, and Radiohead. The only track I’m not sure about is Drums Not Dead‘s closer, “To Hold You, Drum”, which comes off embarrassingly like a carbon copy of Deceit‘s sound. While the rest of the record stays far enough away from This Heat’s sound for Liars to come off as merely on the same wavelength as This Heat, this track implies that the band merely listened to Deceit on repeat while they were dreaming up ideas for new tracks.

As I’ve said, I choose to believe otherwise. Give both a listen. But be warned: Deceit has been out of print for a while, so it’s basically impossible to find at retail stores and difficult to find at download sites.

2 Comments to Albums Best Heard Together: Drums Not Dead and Deceit

  1. by Lu

    On July 24, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    I did not enjoy them EITHER time that I saw them live. Sorry.

  2. by Lu

    On July 24, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    I did not enjoy them EITHER time that I saw them live. Sorry.