[xrr rating=4.0/5]At what point was it that critics began searching for “the next Radiohead?” As the consensus Most Important Band of their particular era, Radiohead’s influence and stature are undeniable facts of pop life and the notion that criticdom felt the need to seek out their inevitable replacement. It’s likely that the quest began in the wake of OK Computer, the album that cemented the band’s legacy and arguably ended Britpop once and for all in favor of big, global, futurist statements. But until recently, the bands nominated as potential usurpers have all mined that album’s predecessor The Bends, with groups like Coldplay and Travis entirely ignoring the post-modern paranoia of that landmark achievement in favor of its ancestor’s lean pop sensibilities and giddy hooks. Which has left America to pick up the post-Kid A slack, specifically through two bands that began as prankish art punk ensembles who just so happened to share a loft, TV on the Radio and Liars.

The discussion of Liars’ latest album WIXIW is almost certainly going to center around the influence of its former tourmates Radiohead, but the backdrop of their history with other “American Radiohead” nominees TV on the Radio is perhaps the more interesting and apt critical detour. Where TV on the Radio first attached soul and Afro-futurism to their paranoid, minimal electronics, they’ve since turned into a Big Important Band (not to be confused with Most Important Band), content to abandon their singular sound in favor of arena and amphitheater ready intellirock. That’s not to diminish their talents or success, but Liars, by contrast, have used the pop path carved out by Radiohead as a way to explore any and all influences and genres that appeal to them. They began life as dance punk heralds and now on WIXIW they’re the opposite, crafters of icy, haunted synth music with inhuman vocal loops and distorted child-like sing-a-longs.

Tracks like “Octagon” may make it tempting to call the album the band’s own Kid A, with Angus Andrew’s barbaric yelp diminished here to siren-like wailing, the drums run through filter delays that make them primal yet otherworldly. But the band arguably already created their own Kid A with Drum’s Not Dead, an album that made percussion the lead instrument and alongside contemporary work from Animal Collective helped reshape modern indie as a result. Instead, view WIXIW as further proof that TV on the Radio and Liars are following a spectrum in opposite directions, the album closer to the former’s Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes than the work of any British giant.

Songs like “No. 1 Against the Rush” utilize simple, repetitive rhythms and thick, gut-based bass lines in much the same way that Desperate Youth did, with a similar intention: to emphasize the vocals and allow them room to open up and expand. Andrew and longtime collaborator Aaron Hemphill, working with producer Daniel Miller (of Depeche Mode fame, and co-founder of Liars’ label, Mute), of course work in more British synth pop-influences than Tunde Adebimpe and Dave Sitek ever have, but it’s a refreshing twist. Like every Liars album, WIXIW is a major departure from what came before, but moments like “A Ring on Every Finger,” with its doomed chanting vocals and claustrophobic mood, are immediately recognizable as Liars, even if the instrumentation is closer to an Anticon release than Sisterworld.

And as is too often typical with Liars, there are moments of unnecessary experimentation– like the go-nowhere acoustic ballad fuckery of “III Valley Prodigies”– that keep the work from being a seamless, perfectly constructed masterpiece. But overall, WIXIW is an enchanting album, surprisingly listener friendly by the band’s standards and as enjoyable as it is thought provoking. And it once again indicates that Liars are perfectly happy to leave the arenas and amphitheaters to their former loftmates. After all, they’ve got entire genres to remake in their image.

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