X Ambassadors to showcase wonderfully weird 'The Beautiful Liar' at Knitting Factory

Nov. 11—Concept albums are about as rare as sonic curveballs, and X Ambassadors delivers both with its latest album, "The Beautiful Liar." The New York band's third release comes out of left field. It's wonderfully weird, provocative and unpredictable.

The material is wry, inventive and unique. The album is delivered as if it's an audio book written by fictitious author Irving P. Neville. There's even a mid-album sponsor break.

"We put a lot of effort into it," vocalist-guitarist Sam Harris said while calling from Kansas City. "We grew up on radio dramas and audio books."

"We" are Harris and his brother, keyboardist Casey Harris. Since the latter is blind, the siblings couldn't bond as well over movies, so they often listened to books together.

"I became obsessed with books on tapes," Harris said. "My brother and I would listen to books on long road trips and at home and get lost in those magical worlds. That's part of how we connected, and so it made sense for us to make our own little world inspired by that with this album."

The Harris brothers earn points for venturing outside the box with some novelty tunes, such as the amusing "Conversations With My Friends,' which features an anti-war rant. One of the album's finest moments features Harris nailing a Jimmy Durante impression during "Theater of War," a clever anti-conflict piece.

Harris surprises by even knowing who Durante, a funny, gravely voiced actor born 95 years before the X Ambassador frontman, is in the pantheon of entertainment. "We love entertainment from all eras," Harris said. "There was no one quite like Durante." And there's no album that's quite like "The Beautiful Liar." X Ambassadors, which also includes drummer Adam Levin, steps into wild territory forged by avant rockers such as Primus.

"I love Primus and bands that get weird like that," Harris said. "I love the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Anthony Kiedis scats on some songs, and it's just amazing. I love the oddball. I love anyone who is creative like those bands. When I think of 'Conversations With My Friends,' I think back to this great weird song from Blur, which is 'Think Tank.'

"There's a song on that album, 'We Got a File on You,' which is super-heavy, and it's about a minute, and the lyrics are just the song title repeated over and over. It's abrasive and it's fun and it's strange. I'm all for that."

The album is accompanied by a podcast, which features Harris and actress Emily Hampshire of "Schitt's Creek" fame. The audio drama is produced by Los Angeles-based podcast group QCode in partnership with Interscope Records.

The drama focuses on a character played by actress Rory Anne Dahl ("Doors"), who has been blind since birth. She discovers after the death of her father that she has superpowers. A group called the Institute attempts to capture her. Her friend Shadow, played by Hampshire, helps her.

"I love a good radio drama, and that's what we tried to create," Harris said. Part of what inspired the ambitious project is Harris' mood swings. "I've been struggling with depression," Harris said. "I've tried to pretend that I have it all together. But it became clear to me when I started writing this record that I should put what I'm struggling with into my art and add some humor to it."

It won't just be about "The Beautiful Liar" when X Ambassadors performs Tuesday at Knitting Factory. Expect a healthy dose of tunes from the pop-rock band's first two albums, including hits such as "Renegades" and "Unsteady."

"The great thing about being on the radio is that it's a validation," Harris said. "I'll never forget where I was when I first heard us on the radio. It's just an incredible thing. I was so proud. For us to be on the radio means a lot. It's obvious that we're on to something. It really is something special."

Harris is particularly proud of his brother. "Casey is fiercely independent," Harris said. "He's a true badass with a big heart. ... I love him and love being around him. He is like no other person I've ever met. I love that he has met with kids who have disabilities. He shows how you can overcome huge obstacles."

Harris and his bandmates are in it for the long haul. "It's about longevity," Harris said. "Look at the great bands. They were all around for a long time. We want to do this for many years to come. Not only do we love making music together, we love being with each other. We're doing exactly what we want to do."