A Place To Bury Strangers have plenty in common with My Bloody Valentine, particularly in terms of guitar sound, but there’s something about them that elevates them above being mere replicas. That something could just be danger.
As anyone who has seen this band live can attest, they are stupendously loud. The music emanating from the stage literally assaults you smacks you about the ears, punches you in the chest and leaves you feeling violated and elated. There are times when exiting the venue actually seems like a good idea in case your head explodes as another sheet of white noise erupts from Oliver Ackermann’s guitar.
When they actually engage in a bit of shoegazing it’s only to make sure that the little daggers they’ve had installed in the toes of their shoes have deployed correctly before they give you another ferocious kicking.
Of course none of this matters a jot when you’ve got a recording of the band, because now the control of volume is firmly in your hands. Or so you’d think. Yet this is a remarkably loud record regardless of how low you keep the volume. When the guitars roar, they really tear out of the speakers, most usually launching themselves from a squall of feedback or a hazy tone drenched section.
Opening with It Is Nothing (which isn’t that far away from being a MBV title, is it?) it’s clear that APTBS are still filled with a vim that is irrepressible. It’s about as far away from the muddle headed drone that you’d expect from a band saddled with the shoegaze moniker. A thunder of drums that would be at home in a speed metal band thrust things along while the guitars thrash like elasticated punk – dashing away before returning on themselves and bouncing away again. It’s pretty close to Six By Seven at their most aggressive. It’s also a massive adrenalin shot with which to start an album.
But where Exploding Head succeeds is in allowing the band’s more tuneful aspects to come to the fore. Keep Slipping Away revels in the space allowed by not crushing everything under a scree of guitar. A nicely insistent motif propels the song, and it finds the APTBS exploring the sounds of bands like New Order/Joy Division and new wave types such as Television. Stripped back, A Place To Bury Strangers are a surprisingly eloquent pop band, which might shock those who come to this album expecting nothing but an hour of pure sonic assault.
The title track pulls a similar trick with an almost disco backbeat and a wiry, flanging bass that is the very definition of a contradiction; both woolly and remarkably precise. Noise appears all over the track, but never really imposes itself to such a degree that it becomes a challenge to Ackermann’s vocals. Once again a clean guitar riff provides clarity where once the band might have been tempted to bludgeon with volume to produce the desired effect.
I Lived My Life To Stand In The Shadow Of You returns to more familiar ground with APTBS discovering the childhood diaries of Sonic Youth and soundtracking them in the raucous manner that Thurston Moore and co used to deliver when they were writing albums like Sister.
Deadbeat is a surf rock extravaganza that would sound loud even with the amp off. The guitars are barely controlled, straining with feedback and lurching forward like seriously pissed off vipers. Drenched in effects, parallels to Silverfish‘s guitar sound that shimmered its way around Camden back in the day are notable. By the time it screeches to a halt, all we can think of is Duane Eddy being stabbed with a thousand white hot syringes filled with weapons-grade LSD.
If anything Exploding Head is an album that bridges the gap between ’80s American art rock and My Bloody Valentine’s epic guitar drones. As they do so they pilfer from the new wave pot and mix it into a riotous explosion of noise, sheer bloody mindedness and sonic experimentation. This is a definite progression from their earlier material and if this is an indication of where the band is ultimately headed, then Exploding Head is likely to be the first of some very exciting albums.