Goth music started in a dance club. Punk, too. The precise whereabouts of their respective moments of conception depends on who you ask, but it's pretty safe to say that their gestation happened on or very near scuzzy dance floors in Detroit and New York and London. Wherever those musics happen now — in bars, art spaces, your parents' basement, oozing from your crusty earbuds — it's important to recognize that they were forged with the aim of putting bodies in motion.
When Liars first turned up in 2001 with They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, they were at the forefront of a cadre of buzzy NYC bands (where they relocated from L.A., but have since returned) hawking dance-punk. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Rapture, LCD Soundsystem: they were all part of a broader post-punk revival at the beginning of the millennium, though their particular cross-section was more interested in leather jackets, the music of ESG, and helping indie kids loosen up. (Watch Scott Crary's Kill Your Idols to learn about their tenuous connection to No New York.)
"Dance-punk" was a pigeonhole. Some bands were cool just making party music; some wanted to do more than Jägerbomb: The Original Soundtrack. Liars spent five albums getting creepier and more experimental, each a step further from the club scene that birthed them. WIXIW, their last album — so macabre, so methodical, so many miles removed from the sexed-up, club-ready pose they debuted with — sounded like they'd lost themselves in the Mute storehouse. So it's no wonder Mess, their brand-new seventh studio full-length, sounds like an elastic stretched so far it can't help but snap back.
Mess is a headlong dive back into dance music, though it's certainly a different understanding of what, historically, has made people move. Once album-opener "Mask Maker" gets going, it rests heavily on a bubbling bassline, synth stabs, and some uncing four on the floor — the kind of sounds that were the life blood of Basement Jaxx, the Big beat movement, and, widely, alternative dance halls through the mid-'90s. "Vox Tuned D.E.D." and "Pro Anti Anti" bore into industrial dance and the '80s Belgian Electronic Body Music sound championed by Front 242. The album centres on "Mess On A Mission," a fevered synth-punk revival, dizzied by its own thumping rhythm.
Taken together, Mess is a collage of the last 30 years in goth fare and "Alternative Nights" at the local dance club, a short history in itself. Maybe more vitally, it's also a reminder that punks dance, too.