A Place To Bury Strangers has always been an exercise in pain to my ears. The New York post-punk/noise rock band deal in angst and sonic annihilation and have since their beginning. From their debut self-titled in 2007 to now I’ve attempted to find an in with them, but each time would end up in frustration and mild tinnitus. With their last album, 2015s Transfixiation I had found a crack in their wall of noise and found myself finally lost in their guitar/bass/drums pummeling. I liked it. I liked it a lot.
I started working my way back through Worship, Exploding Head, and their debut and came at their songs like an alien walking through the Guggenheim. I began taking their methods and structures apart in order to understand them. The sonic assaults felt more like meticulously-painted canvases that were meant to be consumed as a visceral experience, not necessarily an intellectual one. You can’t intellectualize a mountain or an earthquake any easier than you can intellectualize Throbbing Gristle or Suicide. Once you begin thinking about it too hard something gets lost in the translation. Oliver Ackermann and Dion Lunadon are sonic painters in the world of gothic post-punk. It’s dark, mysterious, and exists in sweaty nights where shimmering oceans of watery blackness pool along sidewalks. Black leather jackets, buzzing neon signs, and questionable decisions that lead to even more questionable decisions. Pain from pleasure, and pleasure from pain.
With their newest album, Pinned, APTBS have added drummer and singer Lia Simone Braswell to the mix. What Braswell brings to the mix is some light to the darkened room where all the scary sounds emanate from. Don’t think for a second this record is some sort of pop breakthrough. It’s not. It’s just as pained and chaotic as anything they’ve done before. There’s just a smattering of beauty on the chaotic canvas this time around.
As much as you’d like to think that the first thing you notice with A Place To Bury Strangers is the guitar assault, it’s rather Dion Lunadon’s bass. It’s what brings you into Ackermann’s fiery feedback squelches. “Never Coming Back” opens with a driving bass line that brings to mind Joy Division, the kings of gothic post-punk sadsacks(Peter Hook should be knighted by now.) The song swells with Ackermann and Braswell’s vocals before the apocalyptic guitar explodes. It builds into a cavernous end, then “Execution” rolls in. It’s a glitchy affair that feels like a hybrid of early Cure being run through Remain In Light-era Adrian Belew. “There’s Only One Of Us” almost sounds like Morphine in the beginning, before the chorus comes rolling in and the boy/girl vocals add an almost playful vibe(playful for APTBS.)
Elsewhere “Too Tough To Kill” sounds like Jesus and Mary Chain being pulverized in a sonic meat grinder while “Frustrated Operator” has an almost upbeat New Order sound with the driving drum beat. Of course Ackermann adds some Kevin Shields wall-0f-sound guitar for good measure. “I Know I’ve Done Bad Things” is minimal perfection. It’s like The xx being regenerated through a waterlogged Tandy 1000. “Keep Moving On” closes the record on an Wax Trax vibe, all techno drive despite itself.
Pinned isn’t veering very far from the inner ear destruction that came before it, but with the addition of Lia Simone Braswell the formula has been improved. There’s a little more groove and a much-needed feminine touch to A Place To Bury Strangers’ full-frontal noise assault.
7.8 out of 10