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X-Ambassadors lose their minds as they strive to reclaim success on 'The Beautiful Liar'

The X-Ambassadors' new album takes a trip deep inside the mind

<p>“The Beautiful Liar” is not just an album, but a project that the brothers spawned to express their internal struggles through the story of a blind girl and her shadow.</p>

“The Beautiful Liar” is not just an album, but a project that the brothers spawned to express their internal struggles through the story of a blind girl and her shadow.

After being introduced to the world in 2015 by two hit singles, “Renegades” and “Unsteady,” it’s no wonder that members of the alternative group X-Ambassadors face overwhelming pressure to recreate their previous success. After being typecast as one-hit wonders, X-Ambassadors’ third studio album, released Sept. 24, expresses themes of powerlessness, self-doubt and anxiety. Lead singer Sam Harris titled “The Beautiful Liar” after what he refers to as the voice in his head that offers unprovoked criticism. 

Sam Harris and his brother, Casey Harris, keyboarder for X-Ambassadors, stated in an interview that the two grew up listening to radio dramas instead of television, as Casey is blind. “The Beautiful Liar” is not just an album, but a project that the brothers spawned to express their internal struggles through the story of a blind girl and her shadow. The project inspired Sam and Casey to turn the storyline of “The Beautiful Liar” into a podcast to dive deeper into the world they have created. 

The album is divided into two chapters, each with its own introductory interlude voiced by notable British audiobook narrator Harold Huxley. The narrations are eerily reminiscent of the monologues of Rod Serling that were featured at the beginning and end of each episode of the popular 1960s sci-fi series, “The Twilight Zone.”

On the first track, “CHAPTER ONE: The Sleeping Giant,” the narrator emerges from the atmospheric dream world of chiming bells to introduce the album as “An X Ambassadors production of … /’ The Beautiful Liar’ / by Irving P. Neville / Narrated by Harold Huxley.” Huxley marks the beginning of “Chapter One … The Little Girl and the Sleeping Giant.” 

The title track, “Beautiful Liar,” features an R&B-inspired beat with heavy drums and droning bass. Sam expresses a feeling of attachment to a destructive entity through the words, “‘Cause even if you make me cry / I will never leave your side / So go ahead and tell me lies.” 

“My Own Monster” has a vibrant, pounding bassline and bright yet ominous piano chords. Sam paints the image of a monster to describe his state of mind, using it as a metaphor for his anxieties. Sam begins, “Something dangerous is waking up inside of me / … / Keeping me up all night, this voice inside it tortures me.” 

“Adrenaline” is driven by similar themes, beginning with steady and upbeat drums that accompany the chorus, “You givin’ me, you givin’ me / Ah ah ah / Adrenaline.” Sam states that he is “tired of feeling so numb” and seeks “something that’s worth dying for,” confessing, “I think I need to feel something again.”

The now-familiar omniscient narrator introduces the second chapter of the album in a creepily stilted transitional interlude at the tone of a tape recorder click. The narrator tells the story of a blind girl who has never seen her own reflection, nor her shadow. The shadow speaks to the girl, proclaiming, “I’ve been alone in the dark for so very long. Just like you. I was wondering if ... would it bother you if … could I come out and play?” The tape recorder clicks off, and the shadow laughs menacingly. 

“Conversations With My Friends” is the performative height of delusional thinking and serves as a sort of comedic relief. A new melodic, farcical tape-recorded voice intonates, “I keep having conversations with my friends / Or maybe they’re just the voices in my head.” The man goes on to scream, “I’m not crazy, you’re crazy YOU’RE F—KING CRAZY.” 

“Palo Santo” is an upbeat song with a whistling melody that expresses a theme of distrust and deception. The lyrics, “Gold teeth, and big jaws! / Lions and Tigers yea with big claws / New money make new laws,” is a reference to “The Wizard of Oz” — a fictional character that creates the illusion of being all-powerful by standing behind a curtain and projecting himself as magical to seekers of his powers. 

“Theater of War” features a piano ballad and melody in the style of a classic ‘50s radio jingle. The cheerful tone is juxtaposed by the sound of gunshots in the distance and lyrics citing images of violence. The voice of a man sings, “When your life is a bore and you need something more, well / Check out the Theater of War.”

“A BRIEF WORD FROM OUR SPONSORS” is a 32-second satirical rendition of a recorded radio advertisement that decreases in frequency and speed until the narrator’s voice devolves into a chilling, muffled paralysis. The voice urges consumers to “try War,” asking, “Is your influence weaning? Are the people you lead starting to doubt your sense of leadership? Are you completely losing control?”

“The Beautiful Liar” teeters on the edge of using mental illness as a trope, but the album’s honest and bold nature redeems it as a meaningful project that visits the dark flip-side of reality and issues that are personal to the group, particularly to the Harris brothers. 

One can hope that these themes of skepticism, power, anxiety and control over one’s mental state will be further discussed on episodes of “The Beautiful Liar” podcast, the first of which will be available Oct. 20.