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Review: 'A Place to Bury Strangers'

-  Album: 'Transfixiation' -  Label: 'Dead Oceans'
-  Genre: 'Indie' -  Release Date: '16th February 2015'

Our Rating:
Sometimes, you get a feel for an album pretty quickly. The feel I get for the fourth LP from A Place to Bury Strangers is that it’s going to divide critics and fans alike. Over the last decade, they’ve earned themselves the reputation as ‘New York’s Loudest band’ and been praised (and slated) for their indie tunes buried beneath squalls of noise, inviting (obvious and fitting) comparisons to The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine.

The trademark elements are all in place on ‘Transfixiation’ and surely everyone who digs what they do should be happy, right? Maybe not: their general leaning toward conventional structures and songs in the standard sense is crammed to the back of the room to make room for even more effects pedals, while a darkness and aura of obtuse inaccessibility shoves the less hardy listener to the door with a nihilistic sneer.

Arguably, ‘Transfixiation’ sees A Place to Bury Strangers become the band they always should have been in their capacity as purveyors of noise-rock and given their obvious reference points. It’s a challenging album that places the emphasis on ‘noise’ and abundantly demonstrates Oliver Ackermann’s desire to push every last bit of circuitry to – and beyond – melting point, and as such, forges a sound that more accurately translates the experience of seeing the band’s truly punishing live performances to the studio environment. It’s disorientating, brutal and everything about the album hollers loud, yet still struggles to be heard above the immense wall of brain-traumatising feedback.

The tense, bass-led opener, ‘Supermaster’ finds Ackermann bereft in a wash of reverb and aside for the occasional wash of noise that sounds like a breaker crashing to shore, it calls to mind ‘Closer’ era Joy Division or ‘Movement’ era New order. The stark, austere and reserved start paves the way for lead single, ‘Straight’ which is a serrated squall of nails-down-a-blackboard feedback over an energetic bass run that packs a mean groove. Already, it’s apparent that ‘Transfixiation’ is suffused with a very different kind of energy from its predecessor. But that energy is also very different from that which the singles would lead you to expect. Having previously been very much a song-centric band, ‘Transfixiation’ finds APTBS experimenting in all directions, and the disintegration of ‘We’ve Come So Far’ into a squall of noise is the very least of it.

‘Love High’ is an ultra-lo-fi scratchy sketch of a song that sounds like it was recorded onto a stretched audiotape with a condenser mic, and ‘What We Don’t See’ is even more warped-sounding. Sure, it’s a big My Bloody Valentine rip-off, but they achieve that stomach-churning effect with a deluge of effects and the most amped-up tremolo din you’re likely to hear. ‘Deeper’ cuts in and drops out and sounds like it was cobbled together from segments of a heap of demos. Ackermann sings from his boots amidst a murky racket and I get the same shivering sensation as from The Jesus and Mary Chain’s cover of ‘Mushroom’ by Can.

‘Now It’s Over’ is dark, dark, dark, with a metallic clanking percussion and sonorous pall of droning guitar hanging like a mushroom cloud over an annihilated wasteland. and ‘I’m So Clean’ is the sonic equivalent of a motorcycle colliding with a petrol tanker at 150 miles per hour. The oriental motifs of ‘Lower Zone’ are gnawed away by a hectic sequenced drum and blizzard of treble. ‘Fill the Void’ creates a void all of its own, a whorling vortex of frequencies that draw like a black hole around a bassline styled on Suicide’s ‘Ghostrider.’ It fucking hurts, andthen they draw it to a close with a blistering wall of distortion that all but buries some punky garage racket that sounds like it’s being played halfway up the street. Or perhaps it’s in the same room and is so loud the mic’s blown.

There’s no way anyone could accuse A Place of Bury Strangers of playing it safe on this one, or going for the mass market. It’s as likely to alienate as many, if not more fans than it will please or appease, and kudos to them for producing an album that places artistic endeavour over commercial appeal. And for my money, it’s their best work yet.

A Place to Bury Strangers Online
  author: Christopher Nosnibor

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A Place to Bury Strangers - Transfixiation