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.