Once claimed to be “the loudest band in New York”, noise rockers A Place To Bury Strangers have carved out a true cult following since forming in 2002. By creating a sound that fused heavy distortion with gothic and shoegaze tendencies, their first two albums laid down some wantonly dense retro sounds, while their later releases somehow managed to feel a little more accessible without losing too many of the band’s most confrontational elements.
Their 2019 release ‘The Fuzz Club Session’ was recorded in a single day when APTBS visited Love Buzz Studios in South London at the end of a tour. According to frontman Oliver Ackermann, there are times where it’s possible for a band to feel tired of their own material after being on the road, so a little re-invention is needed to keep things interesting. That’s very much where this release comes in.
Combining elements of shoegaze, dreampop, drone and a touch of post-hardcore noise, Montreal’s No Joy have carved out a career as part of the alternative underground, making music that can be both darkly captivating and brutal, yet retain some kind of mystic beauty within that general dystopia. Previous full length releases have featured a broad range of retro sounds and huge echoes of an alt-rock past. From the 90s throwback loveliness of tracks like ‘Wrack Attack’ and the pure dream pop of ‘Moon In My Mouth’, to the Jesus and Mary Chain ugliness of ‘Still’, there’s very little to link the tracks with being the same band, yet at the same time, their unsettling qualities suggest they’re all the product of No Joy. Each record is home to buried treasure – it can be laborious to find that gold, but rest assured it’s there.
This debut EP by Australian-based duo FOREVR is one of those discs you’ll either love or hate within seconds of hitting the play button. With no time to warm up, the band have already shifted from silence to a complete wall of sound in a split second, as the intro ‘Yucatan’ crushes with a huge droning noise. Overdriven guitars with amplifiers turned up to twelve (one even louder) gleefully throw out distorted shapes as chief musician Donovan Miller hammers at an array of effects pedals. From somewhere within, vocalist Sam George-Allen melds her voice accordingly, a filtered sound rising and falling throughout, wisp-like and ghostly as if she’s channelling Elizabeth Fraser on a collaboration with the equally uncompromising A Place To Bury Strangers.
Released on Mute Records in 2008, this second album by New York’s A Place To Bury Strangers is a twisted, almost torturous ride. There are moments where the listener is beaten into submission by a barrage of multi-layered guitars, driven by distortion. Somewhere among the noise, inspired equally by Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, Oliver Ackermann’s vocals waver in an out like a man drowning in sound. On most of the album, his voice remains buried below the music, his lyrics barely audible – but that voice is necessary as a point of aural focus. The blanket-of-noise approach is a key feature in the band’s sound, featuring on a number of songs, at least in part. In short, A Place To Bury Strangers are rarely easy to listen to. The opening track, ‘There Is Nothing’ sets the tone for most of the album, with vocals buried under guitars, but its pace makes it somehow captivating.
While the sheets of feedback and distortion are cranked up to ear-bleeding levels during parts of ‘Deadbeat’ and ‘I Used To Live My Life In The Shadow of Your Heart’, ‘Ego Death’ manages to temper the feedback-drenched squalls of the band’s noisier side (slightly) with a dark eighties, electronic feel. At times, Oliver is still using his effects pedals to levels which could be considered extreme, but despite this, there are signs of obvious songcraft bubbling just below the surface. These signs of musical ability are even more evident during ‘Smile When You Smile’ which features some sharp bass work (courtesy of Jono Mofo) somewhere in amongst the density.
It’s not all challenging though. At the centre of ‘In Your Heart’ and ‘Everything Always Goes Wrong’ there’s a mechanical bleakness carrying a spirit of Joy Division. The title track shows similar mechanical coolness and ‘Keep Slipping Away’ is a near-perfect piece of goth-pop. It’s a marriage of ‘Pornography’ era Cure and the lighter parts of ‘Psychocandy’ by Jesus and Mary Chain, which is played with so much love, you’d be forgiven for thinking it could be an unearthed obscurity from 1983.
These guys are likely to be met with open arms by MBV fans (particularly given Kevin Shields’s long periods of inactivity). The lighter gothy parts of their work are those with the most appeal – and as such could get the band a slightly broader audience, but on the whole, ‘Exploding Head’ is a record which requires patience and time. Only then will the rewards begin to be reaped.