Billy Liar – Crisis Actor LP

Billy Liar
Crisis Actor LP
(Pirates Press Records)
It feels unlikely on the surface because, like Henry Ford, punks often want to proclaim that, “history is bunk” – but the fact is that some of the permutations of punk rock that have passed through the mainstream are possessed of an undeniably accessible quality. Even on first listen, sometimes there’s just something about the music which is capable of hooking listeners really really hard – and that thing doesn’t let go until the proverbial needle lifts. That enduring appeal is easy to find in the music of Blink 182 and The Gaslight Anthem and, in listening to Crisis Actor, a valid argument could be made for the existence of it in Billy Liar’s Pirates Press debut album too. The album is characterized by instrumental and vocal melodies which are so well-refined that that it feels like the band has taken a staggering amount of care polishing them and now, finally, they’ve been released for listeners to absorb and adore.

There is no sense of pomp or ceremony about the form or the play as “Oblivion” opens the A-side of the album. In fact, the song comes at listeners from the exact opposite position as Billy Liar opens the running with the words, “I’ve got one pack of cigarettes from the night I gave up,” before giving fair warning with, “Just in case I need to pull them out if this all gets too much,” which gives both singer and band an easy way out. Even on first play, listeners will recognize that the trap is set with “Oblivion” – but the bait is so sweet that listeners won’t think twice about jumping right in after it.

After “Oblivion” sets the tone for the A-side of the album, “Baltimore” keeps it running with the same kind of soul-infused pop punk delivery that its predecessor featured (which feels like it owes something to Elvis Costello too – in my opinion), but it feels firmer here because the precedents have already been set. Because of that, the chord progression in the song, coupled with the sing’s vocal performance, feels empowered – a pattern which continues beautifully into Liar’s duet with Frank Turner (“Negroni”) and through a fantastic indictment of the public school system, “Failure Factory.” There, the song itself takes a backseat to lines like, “The only thing that I learnt at high school was how to take a punch/ I’d keep my head down in the corridors as we walked to lunch/You’ll learn pretty fast not to change your facial expression/ In case a smile or a sneer or a glance could be open to interpretation” and the results are the kind that listeners can really feel – and draw parallels to, in their own experience. That sensation will still be evident as “Phantom Limb” closes the side, but the energy is definitely different there; after some really guitar opens the cut, the bite of the guitars and rhythm section has sharper teeth and lines like “Maybe it’s psycho somatic, what if none of this is right/ The feeling you get when you have it suddenly torn from your side” really help those teeth sink in. Throughout the remainder of the cut, listeners will be held enthralled as Billy Liar rewrites the sort of mental anguish and uncertainty which is very, very commonplace in punk because the way the song is arranged feels really familiar but rings with a fantastic power that doesn’t release listeners until the needle lifts, and will have listeners hoping for more of the same when they flip the record over.

Perhaps in answer to the power with which “Phantom Limb” closed the A-side of Crisis Actor, “Ostrich” opens the B-side with even higher speeds already set, and a great amount of frustration already in place too. The sense of annoyance which powers “Ostrich” is impossible to miss as the song speeds along, and lines like, “I stopped reading the comments section/ I stopped reading anything/ I buried my head in the sand/ Like the ostrich that I am” present frustration and self-disgust in a way that has appeared in millions of teenaged spiral-bound notebooks, but still sounds good because the tone is universal and well-articulated. That sense of “just like everyone” accessibility doesn’t feel quite as original, frustratingly, as “Starlight On Main” retreads nearly identical terrain, but “Cheyne Stoking” regains the ground lost well enough before “Don’t Trust Anyone” surpasses all expectations with a heart-on-its-sleeve sweetness which abandons pop-punk performance cliches and discovers something which sounds like coffeehouse writing over a single distorted electric guitar. While the logistics of how this song could possibly fit into a setlist of other songs from this album is unclear (maybe to open the band’s set?), hearts will melt as the singer curses his broken heart while in tears and have listeners in line for more. As ready as they might be for another album’s worth of songs in a similar vein though, “Hogmanay” and “Troubled Mind” play like a final resignation to close out the album, and leave listeners trying to figure out how they feel about being left by Crisis Actor. They’ll know, for example, that every fucking moment of what they heard was great, and they’ll have difficulty justifying that they feel like they’ve been shorted as the needle lifts because they know they got a full meal from Crisis Actor, but they want more. All they’ll be able to do is choose to flip the disc over and begin Crisis Actor again, or restart the B-side to pour over it some more and try to find something that they might have missed. Either way, it’s unlikely that those who hear Crisis Actor will be able to make it through the album only once on their first time through. It is better than that. [Bill Adams]


Billy Liar – Crisis Actor LP – “Oblivion”

Crisis Actor is out now. Buy it here on Bandcamp.

Bill Adams is Editor-in-Chief of Ground Control Mag.