It gets inside your head; fucks you up like a bad trip. White, concierge ceilings open-up a world of fantasy-misery, replacing stark whiteness with dappled, hallucinatory shadows of scissors. Angling about, aimless almost.
Momentary bursts of explosion-crescendos vibrate the room. Bookshelf speakers flail helplessly in the aftermath of subsonic throbs unmanageable without a subwoofer. Silence beckons an obligatory choral continuation of shock and awe, like some figurative strafing run. Lyrics so enthralled in a melancholy of despair that the walls begin to melt, and with it any chance of consciousness. Fading away helplessly, into blinking movements like a fishbowl fish somehow realising its futile existence. Seconds drag across the room like a dog with an itchy arse: palpable, material-somewhat – yet, unexplainably pointless in the wake of Liars’ Sisterworld and its confirmation of some surrealistic Absolute. What makes sense anymore tips inadvertently upside down, and one feels numb. This subtle, floating sensation meanders from the Root Chakra – the Kundalini – upwards, into what would later inspire Morrison to call The Doors. This pseudo-spiritual awakening spawns an inexplicable passion seemingly fed by Scissor, displacing an otherwise anaemic reality with fleeting glimpses into unfathomableness. Whereupon the listener’s transformative encounter renders them unwittingly a conduit: a living projector of imaginative possibilities to the meaning of this chaotically alternative, non-mainstream composition.
Scissor is like some cutup scrapbook, an amalgam of orchestral/contemporary instrumentation. Tchaikovsky-reminiscent outbursts, screaming abusively like an ADHD-child craving sugar, coupled with Beethoven-esque subtlety and nuance only a sensitive-deprived individual can fully appreciate. Pitiable, bestial howling undercuts this hybridisation of 1812 Overture meets Moonlight Sonata, while Angus Andrew invokes the spirit of Tunde Adebimpe to the effect of Pray for Rain. All of it sounding like a B-side Pink Floyd song, somehow misbegotten – prog-rock at its disregarded-best. Its ephemeral, four-minute lifespan is as morose as it is moreish, delivering instead where it cannot in length, in replay-value. One’s progressive realisation of perfection does not waver in the slightest face of a hundred repetitions, nor a thousand.
It only adds to its seduction.
And yet, only once psychologically embedded does its consequential toxicity become fully apparent. It starts off with a whistle, following the chorus in an almost childish ditty.
Before long, lyrics begin to manifest themselves through symptomatic humming during awkward silences. Uninfected listeners will obliviously smile, unbeknownst to them its disturbing, hitherto-unspoken morbidity. Prejudice and fear reign-in predictably with the utterance of its opening phrase“… I found her… with my scissor.” (L1-2; Liars) All it takes is a wrong look and a wry smile to end-up smothered in fists, or worse. Urbanity becomes a quasi-musician’s playground in an attempt to recreate key sections of the song – detonating impulsively at the sight of garbage cans, Coke tins, tabletops and armrests. Feet squirm uncomfortably in response to some freak-apparition containing rhythm; the thump-thump of a train along the tracks, for instance, enough to rouse one’s internal iPod into action. Before long, mental bastardisations of the song begin rearranging, recreating and amplifying crescendos with one-off, individual solos. For better or worse. All in an effort to perpetuate this growing, narcotic fixation which leaves one craving Scissor, and only Scissor…
* * *
Angus Andrew on vocals/guitar, Aaron Hemphill on guitar/percussion/ synth and Julian Gross on drums, comprise Liars: an American indie-rock band established back 2000. Four albums down, and a label-shift from Gern Blandsten Records (2001–2003) to Mute Records (2003–present), Liars’ pioneering single for its fifth studio album Sisterworld featured as a free download early December, 2009 – entitled Scissor. The album received largely positive reviews (8.1/10, Pitchfork; 7/10, PopMatters) following its release (10/3/10), with Drowned in Sound’s Luke Slater citing it had:
“… [Its] own space, completely devoid of influence, somewhere remote from the false promises and discarded dreams amassed in LA… [exploring] the underground support systems created to deal with [a] loss of self to society.” (Slater, 2009; p1)
Being Sisterworld’s introductory track only underlines Scissor’s infectiousness: a three-and-a-half-minute tirade, quickly absorbing fan and newcomer alike. An accompanying video clip – directed by Andy Bruntel – captured Scissor’s feel, emulsifying its isolation in an abstract, oceanic environment. Nevertheless, its negation of Scissor’s ballad-like lyrics proffered a dualistic response: viewers saw one thing, but heard another. Bruntel’s imaginative recreation of Scissor oozed symbolism, yet somehow failed to take into account its straightforward – albeit unsettling – anecdote about its protagonist stumbling across a botched suicide-attempt. Much like an interior monologue, the music’s accompaniment only heightened its overwrought, situational emotion. It is only when listeners are unknowingly dumped into Scissor, and forced to endure its nail-bitingly tense chorus without distraction, that their relationship towards the music shifts. Both are so vital – unified in an inseparable symbiosis where music and lyrics and person are one and the same.
My first encounter with Scissor was mistaken, unintentional: smack-bang in a new-age mixtape I’d put on, just to eat away some hours of the day. And all I could notice was the hypnotically dreary oboe, undercutting its beginning – choral voices wailing like some mongrelised church-choir full of wolves. Slowly, I let my eyes to sleep; lulled into wicked dreams. Then the chorus, in what can only be described as a deafening clamour of percussion and guitar: as if nails on a chalkboard were my teeth and rusty pins and needles were my skin – the air about me, suddenly electrified, fuzzy with invisible movement. Senses sharpened, somehow, tickling my basal ganglia into full reptilian action; indeed, we were both “… Alive!” (L19; Liars). Andrew’s deep, baritone voice was like an emotionally-laden minefield of boundless suffering, which he then again relived, over and over, at my invocated whim. Lyrics from the perspective of some overwhelmed Good Samaritan, who’d found a slashed-wrists girl on the verge of death. All of it so wonderfully macabre…
I returned daily – as prescribed – remedying my incessant craving for Scissor’s oboe. Was it an oboe, though? Could it be a bassoon? A previously unheard bass-riff throbbing tenderly beneath, discovered and later anointed with piano, dripping delicately overhead, became audible within a few daily run-throughs. Misheard lyrics expunged in place of new-ones; no-longer confused by the ruminations of a “soft-porn army”, but a “self-built” (L7; Liars) one instead. And originally repulsed by its mood-destructive chorus, now loyally partisan and prone to bouts of air-guitar and table-drumming at any hint of its utterance. But what any of it meant, was beyond me – why something so beautiful could likewise be so ugly in another light. How suicide could just as easily mean murder; Scissor being so wrapped-up in its contextual ambiguity. It wasn’t just a narrative, but someone’s internal monologue, the music an empathic-overture, in an A-B-A-B format: a verse followed by the chorus, repeated in a fluctuating common-time. Everything seemed to flow with a sort of elegant complexity, emasculating its banal, melodramatic posture in an antithesis of volatile passion. The first choral interlude was like a brief glimpse into the chaotically overrun mind of Scissor’s protagonist, visibly shaken – hands “… flipping out…” (L6; Liars) – and in a state of near-debilitating shock; its climactic conclusion from the same approach, a sundry thrill of surprise and joy at the sight of her “… blinking eye.” (L16; Liars). Dividing verses hymn-like in appearance, emphasised with the inclusion of twisted, evangelic singing and tacky, electric church-organ – writing off the incident like a makeshift, drive-in funeral. And just when things get interesting, an abrupt, dissatisfying ending without closure: whatever happened to them both?
Scissor is one of those rare songs, that the more you think because of it and the more you think you know about it, become obscured, discontinuous – like a loose-ended skivvy, unravelling quickly into nothing. We demand answers, and reason, where there is none. We get caught-up trying to pin it somewhere in reality when it’s just a piece of fiction, stifling it in a love-hate relationship depending on our (philosophical) mood. You start off cringing, and go from there – like most of Sisterworld. Scissor isn’t for the faint-hearted, nor would any of its elements – bar construction – resemble pop music.
Scissor just is.
And with all good music, our attitudes towards it changes. I went from radical discontent, to frustration, to narcotic fixation, pseudo-spiritual awakening and back again, through the course of this dissertation. And all the while, kept asking myself: who is it? Whose song is this, and who is this protagonist?
An innocent bystander?
A friend, boyfriend; ex- or else?
Just when you think you know everything there is to know about a song, Scissor comes along and challenges preconception. It’s an alternative ballad from one perspective – professing its love (if at all) physically rather than verbally, in-between the lines – but at the same time, unique and in a realm all of its very own. It needs to be heard by itself, alone, preferably within an enclosed environment; like I did. It’s a one-on-one between listener and song, like a confessional; private and cathartic. It just won’t do to listen to this in public, because – like everything good – needs to be heard loud.
I found her
With my scissor
This heart fell
To the ground
I’m supposed to save you now
But my hands are flipping out
I’m a coward in a self-built army
I leave this blood to dry
I leave this blood to dry
I dragged her body to the parking lot
I tried to find her
A saviour right there amongst the cars
Just then I
Began to quiver
When I saw her
She was alive
And she’s breathing
[Safe and sound]
Also, see this fantastic post for an alternate analysis!