It’s rare that the hyperbole of an album’s press release is outdone by the plaudits of reviewers, but the fevered accolades cawing from such luminaries as Pitchfork for this debut from Brooklyners A Place To Bury Strangers makes their own PR seem almost indifferent.
Certainly being branded ‘the loudest band in New York’ brings with it a certain degree of expectation, although much of it possibly relates to APTBS’s upcoming support slots for MGMT: it’s almost worth the cost of touted tickets to see how an audience geared up for upbeat psychedelic indie-rock responds to their self-professed ‘Total Sonic Annihilation.’ On the strength of this release we should be expecting casualties at the least, with live reportage from Jon Snow against a background of frantic aid workers weaving amongst sobbing, foetal-positioned half-forms clutching at their iPods in the hope that it will all just go away.
Coming across like a dystopic, nailgunned New Order, the album announces its intentions from the off: whipcrack drums under violent, industrial chords that dissipate into clouds of processed noise, drifting over Oliver Ackermann’s half-whispered vocals and dousing them with acid rain. Last year Maps married ‘shoegaze’ to an electronic aesthetic: here it’s rendered through a fire at an arms depot.
The formula’s a familiar one, but the delivery here is just that much more brutal: Don’t You Lover explodes with caustic immoderation, sending partners rushing for the volume control and children to the emergency ward. To Fix The Gash In Your Head threatens aneurysm, a minigun of beats and tortured effects counterpointing Ackermann’s quiet psychosis, his intention ‘to wait till you turn around, and kick your head in’ sounding less like a threat than a solemn vow.
Away from the destruction the band clear space for melody and even restraint, closer Sunbeam demonstrating an aptitude for warped atmospherics, minor chords fading away against an endless drum-machine loop. Elsewhere The Falling Sun provides an album highlight, slowing the pace to a drawl as the drums clamour portentously behind, whilst Another Step Away flirts with a piano refrain worthy of Sigur Ros, a moment of ceasefire before the barrage continues anew.
Fans of the band might wonder why it’s taken the album over a year to make it over here, especially given the proliferation of transatlantic flights. Rather than answer that question their label have given us five additional tracks instead, taking the number of tracks to fifteen and the album’s running time to just shy of an hour. As a one-up over the US release that’s quite a coup, although there are repercussions in terms of cohesion: whilst the original version of the album was a relatively taut affair, the extra twenty minutes now make for a structurally-uneven listen, with Ocean providing a false close far too early. And whilst none of the new tracks are unwelcome they’d have been better employed as an EP: it’s difficult to deny that the album is now just too long, your elation at the extra third more likely to turn to tinnitus before it’s played through.
More serious is the issue of recording quality: perhaps it’s a problem limited to this promo copy, but this ‘remastered’ release seems to suffer from considerably worse production that its US counterpart, at least when compared to the tracks streaming on the band’s MySpace. All too often the drums lack weight, the ever-present feedback hissing with treble when it should be screaming with rage. Missing You should have your neighbours ganging up and firebombing your house, not recommending an alternative stereo setup.
Nevertheless, for fans of searing white noise A Place To Bury Strangers will pretty much seem messianic: anyone of a slightly gentler disposition might want to run the other way. Those of you that are left should probably try to catch these people live first, as unless your skin is being flayed from your body by feedback they’re not really having the full effect.