So it’s been a while since I visited industrial shoegazers A Place to Bury Strangers. Their self-titled 2007 debut earned them the reputation of being the “loudest band in Brooklyn”, and that album regularly savaged my welcoming eardrums during that year. I enjoyed their follow up Exploding Head, albeit somewhat less than their first effort. I admit to losing track of them subsequently, content only to have them occasionally materialize unexpectedly on a randomized playlist and relish the nostalgia.
Thus, it was with sentimental dismay that I found their latest release Transfixiation wanting. Track “Love High” is a blatant, accelerated two minute rip-off of nearly any song from My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, except Kevin Shields achieved the same sound nearly 25 years ago. “What We Don’t See” smacks of an updated version of Psychocandy’s “The Living End.” It’s one thing to be defined by your influences, but it’s another entirely to be utterly circumscribed by them. If I had been told that this was a new Jesus and Mary Chain album that employed updated effects pedals, I’d have believed it.
Witness “Deeper.” The fuzzy intro is interspersed with bomb blast kick drum and monotone vocals claiming, “if you fuck with me, then you’re gonna burn.” While this aggression appealed to me eight years ago, it seems like A Place to Bury Strangers have overplayed the same angst since I first heard “To Fix the Gash in Your Head.” Whatever opportunity there is for developing a structure around the song is drowned in the morass of feedback that suffused the track. Maintaining an artistic orbit around a concept is important, but one hopes for a degree of evolution from that trajectory.
There are moments of hope on “Transfixation,” but they’re fleeting at best. “Lower Zone” gestures toward an interesting track, but fails to develop beyond a repeated theme and a handful of blasts of noise over the motif. Everything is suffused in a sonic hollowness that was once an exciting point of distinction, but now treads a well-worn path. I like Suicide, J&MC, and MBV as much as the next wannabe music critic, but APBS’ most recent effort fails to translate these influences into something that synthesizes and improves upon them.
There’s nothing properly wrong with this album, and my disposition toward the band made me leap into this review. The rhythm section propels things in surprisingly danceable direction, but the chirps and bleats of turned up knobs gets in the way. It sets a properly gloomy tone, but the bleakness seems forced. The serrated strings have nothing to sink their teeth into.
Perhaps “Transfixiation” is ultimately an appropriate name for this album. A Place to Bury Strangers seems captured by the inescapable grip of their forebears, pinned to its shoegazey past like a black butterfly. Whatever moments of novelty one might glean are lost in the relentless, inflectionless hail of guitar noise that oversaturates every track. It’s unfortunate. I wanted to like this album, and I imagine that A Place To Bury Strangers have engrossing (and loud) live performances. I doubt that concertgoers can effectively distinguish between one song and another, but I bet they’re transfixed, if only by the tinnitus.
Transfixion by A Place to Bury Strangers was released on Dead Oceans on 17th Feb 2015