It wasn’t long ago when A Place To Bury Strangers were considered the next great shoegaze, noise-pop band. They were trusted to take the music of My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins, and Slowdive to harsher and louder heights. They were, after all, dubbed the “loudest band of New York” for a reason. In the 11 years since their self-titled debut LP, they have refused to be pigeonholed. They have instead evolved, gradually moving in a direction that’s darker, grittier, and more desolate. With their fifth studio album, Pinned, the transformation nears its completion.
The record is not Oliver Ackermann (guitars/vocals), Dion Lunadon (bass/vocals), and Lia Braswell’s (drums/vocals) hardest nor loudest. It is, however, their rawest, darkest, and most fascinating output to date. It is less shoegaze and more harrowing psychedelic post-punk. In other words, Pinned is the forging of the bleak, sinister depths of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club with the steely ferocity of Joy Division and Pornography-era The Cure. No longer the lightning that illuminated the night, the album is APTBS becoming the menacing voice that booms in the darkness. And it is startlingly enrapturing.
“Suddenly I feel so alive!”, Ackermann and Braswell blare out on the fiery “Act Your Age”, which feels like the band’s response to the critics who have not embraced their gloomier style. Meanwhile, the stuttering post-punk “Keep Moving On” and the slow-building firestorm “Never Coming Back” are their battle cries to their legion of fans, encouraging them to unchain themselves from anyone and anything that holds them back. Or they can display “Attitude”, which is a post-punk number right out of ’70s Manchester and tells the story of a woman who won’t relent to anything.
Exactly what the obstacles are is revealed on “Look Me In The Eye”, which comes as close to a political track APTBS will craft. Industrial arrangements buzz throughout, and they provide the ideal framework for Ackermann’s tale of the unconscious oppression of the people at the hands of the few who wield power and control technology.
The trio channel their past on the blistering “Frustrated Operator”. Noisy, hypnotic, and intoxicating, the song bursts with fierce guitar work and explosive rhythms. Ackermann and Braswell’s lyrics are cryptic and obtuse, yet indicate that even those in charge of executing the bosses’ vision are not immune to their wrath.
The spine-tingling and brooding “There’s Only One Of Us” is APTBS are their best. The shoegaze tinges are more prevalent, but the steely delivery is more foreboding and haunting than dizzying. Braswell’s drumming, though, is the standout, as she creates the song’s dreary and darkly intense atmosphere. The interplay between her and Ackermann, too, add to the song’s drama. The two take on the roles of two combatants trying to survive in this post-apocalyptic world.
“Situations Changes”, however, is the album’s highlight. While not as harsh nor brooding as most of the album’s tracks, it is the most suspenseful and engaging. It is also the most developed track on the album. The slow build, the familiar steely guitar chimes, and the trembling post-punk rhythms merge to create the perfect 2AM driving track. As Ackermann and Braswell mention, “Situations changing that’s the rule”. They’re not telling us to accept our fate, but warning of what is to come. Warning us of the day when “Mother Nature dies”. Telling us that we must evolve if we are to progress and adapt to survive. Just like how A Place To Bury Strangers have been doing during their 15-year career.
The band is currently in Europe as part of a lengthy tour. They return to North America at the end of May. Dates are listed here.
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