A Place to Bury Strangers
A Place to Bury Strangers
(Killer Pimp; 2007)
By Clayton Purdom | 22 October 2007
Turn on the black lights, kids. This year’s model is A Place to Bury Strangers, a record which, in its singleminded pursuit of a solitary sonic experience that may or may not be much fun past the five-week point, and in its deft and indistinguishable fusion of human error and machinist percussion, and in its having been added to my iPod last week, is reminiscent of this year’s other über-fun, über-recommendable debut record, Justice’s †. Like †, A Place to Bury Strangers is a record with excitement hardwired to its musical structure: the elements of these songs are so individually pleasing that, when the band shifts them against each other, the effect is a sense of constant cataclysmic upheaval. Each new variation is giddying.
This is kind of interesting, because A Place to Bury Strangers does not aim to be described as “fun.” It aims for something near the intersection of “brutal” and “bleak,” but then barrels out of the speakers with too much enthusiasm; any morbidity is left quivering back at the launching pad. It is a sound that recalls every 80s touchpoint hip to recite in the ’00s: I’m talking about Albini razorblade thunder, Joy Division detachment, Echo & the Cure theatricality, all hewn together with 21st century studio wizardry. A track like “To Fix the Gash in Your Head” is a frosty and calculated front, the inhumanity of the drum machines suggesting a sort of depravity, the nowhere vocals sounding drowned, but then the giant swarm of mechanized bees swarming overhead—“guitars,” perhaps, at some point in the production process—descends with corrosive largesse, and the aesthetic’s graveyard groundings synthesize into something a little too gloriously funky to be gloomy.
Here we have squealing guitars and roaring guitars swirling around guitaring synths, but, listeners, gaze not at your shoes. Or, if we are gonna shoegaze (as the band’s MySpace comprehensively suggests they have), we’ll be shoegazing at stubbed out cigarettes and Chuck Taylor dance moves on a blurry Friday night. I’m not suggesting that what head Place to Bury a Stranger Oliver Ackermann has done is create a new genre—although if he has, I’m coining the term “hard gaze” now—I’m just emphasizing how successfully his influences have been synthesized into this greater whole, this sleek black oil-hearted monster. Again, like †, it’s distilled a little too cleanly in the record’s first half to leave much heft in the back five, but unlike †, Ackermann’s record has enough momentum to shoot through to the large-hearted cascading “Ocean.” Still, it’s in the first half where we find, amidst the sonic warfare, E Street bass/drum dynamism making an anthem of “Another Step Away,” or the plush pop verses of “Don’t Think Lover” finding a sweet echo in an unaffected guitar solo. I mean, using the verse melody as the guitar solo? That’s on some Rivers Cuomo shit.
And so what we have here is, yes, a terrifically exciting debut record, a cleanly derivative sonic aesthetic on hyperpowered production struts with a songwriting ear toward populism. It may feel abrasive (it may sound abrasive) but it is not. A Place to Bury Strangers belongs in a pantheon of other great buzzed-about copycat debuts, among those that deserved our love (_Is This It_ , Guitar Romantic ) and, well, among others (_Veni Vidi Vicious_ , anyone?). I’ve been proven wrong too frequently to place bets now on where this record will fall, and I will offer no concrete advice on how Ackermann might go about stepping over the Some Loud Thunder (2007)-sized pothole in his path. This may be as strong a record as I’d like to think it is, or it may be ephemeral trash. I don’t know the answer. Fortunately, I don’t care. What I do know is that right now “Ocean” is pulsing for the tenth time this week out of my stereo like a Head on the Door (1985) b-side I always wanted to unearth, and I am watching—literally, as I type this, watching as brittle dead leaves fall all melancholic and tuneful to the grey sidewalk below. This is A Place to Bury Strangers’s moment, maybe their last. Your Halloween party just got soundtracked.