A little while back i reviewed Wrong Creatures, the latest record by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. BRMC is a three-piece noise rock band from New York who have replaced their original drummer with a female drummer, which has the added benefit of adding in a different backing vocal layer. The band is, in a way, a Jesus and Mary Chain tribute act.
I found that record to be pretty enjoyable. I mention it here because this is a review of Pinned, the latest record by A Place To Bury Strangers. APTBS is a three-piece noise rock band from New York who have replaced their original drummer with a female drummer, which has the added benefit of adding in a different backing vocal layer. The band is, in a way, a Jesus and Mary Chain tribute act.
Reviewing both of these records so close together, it really struck me how the bands are kind of parallels. BRMC have been a much-hyped band, while APTBS have had some hype but have mostly existed as a rawer, more underground version of BRMC. They are reflections of each other. To paraphrase Plato, both bands are but imperfect shadows cast on a cave wall by the Form of The Jesus and Mary Chain.
I wonder if Plato would have liked any of these bands? Considering that he lived in a pre-electricity society, i suspect that this music would have just scared him because it's so loud and distorted... But what does Plato know, anyway?
My point is that there is some kind of a connection, a similarity here. I haven't seen anyone else explicitly mention it before, but maybe i am not looking in the right places for that. It was the addition of Lia Simone Braswell on drums in APTBS that really made the comparison stand out to me. It is like APTBS is mirroring what was happening in BRMC.
And the thing is, i have always liked APTBS more than BRMC. I find APTBS records to be more engaging than any BRMC records. I think that has to do with the voice -- Oliver Ackerman is a far more dynamic singer than Peter Hayes. Hayes tend to sing every BRMC song the same way -- a slightly nasal whine sung flatly. Ackerman, however, it all over the place: he wails some songs, he whispers some, he sings, he speaks. I like that variety.
And i must say that i like Ms. Braswell's addition to the band. I like her vocals, i like the way they complement the music and Ackerman's singing. Her presence adds some depth to APTBS, depth that their last record lacked. And i really liked Transfixiation -- it rocked my socks off in 2015. And this record? If anything, it is even better.
The record starts tensely with a rumbling bass warble that builds to a real nervousness, Dion Lunadon driving a powerful riff. The guitar, when it joins in, is a fuzzy explosion, just noise to go along with that powerful bass riff, nervous tapping drums, and Ackerman's bored voice. Never Coming Back is classic APTBS: nervous post-punk tension building for 5 minutes.
The tension continues on Execution, Lunadon rumbling a bass riff that borrows from Berlin (think The Metro but faster) as Braswell plays a new wavish tapping. Over this, Ackerman's guitar squeals as he sings through distortion.
Braswell and Ackerman trade vocals on There’s Only One of Us, making the song title into a lie because two of them sing. Braswell plays a rolling drum riff that reminds me of early U2 while the guitar and bass grind along with distortion. It builds to a nice grinding climax.
Situations Changes is generally quieter, Braswell's voice layered behind Ackerman as the guitar flows from scattered notes to tortured squeal. This has a new wavish feel, especially in Lunadon's bass, a steady mid 1980s rumble. This is another great tune from this band, and i love the addition of Braswell's voice here.
For some reason on Too Tough to Kill Ackerman and Braswell chant "Kill. More. Dog. Shit." on the choruses. However, i like the guitar and bass rumble and the primitive flat drumming. This channels Psychocandy nicely.
Flip the record over and kick things off with Frustrated Operator. The bass is a rumbling growl, the drums are distant, and the guitar is an angry squeal. Braswell's voice is a little to the front here, and the song hurls itself forward nicely.
The beat sounds more electronic on Look Me in the Eye, and in fact the whole song if buried in fuzz and feedback and almost disintegrates into a feedbacky mess.
After that freak-out, the next song starts slowly, the guitar chiming alone for a few seconds before Braswell and Lunadon come in with a walking beat. Ackerman sings almost reflectively here, Braswell behind him on the verses... Was It Electric flows along a little differently for them, more Spiritualized than JAMC. And it's catchy, just toe-tappingly great, a wonderful rhythm that eventually disintegrates into an intense haze... Wow. I really like this one.
The bass thunks a nervous little riff and the beat is a strange ticking pop, almost like static on a record, for I Know I’ve Done Bad Things. Ackerman sings through intense echo, and his guitar is faint and vaguely western. Distortion overwhelms in odd patches, and the song grows slowly to a glorious end.
Act Your Age has mechanical drumming and masses of feedback. This is a typical APTBS banger. However, on Attitude they channel early punk, with Braswell’s drumming an angry primitive thunk, the vocals yelled at the mic from a distance, and the bass overwhelming it all.
The album's closer, Keep Moving On has a clicking synth beat, which combines with Ackerman's disaffected voice to give this a real mid 80s goth feel. This almost sounds like Cabaret Voltaire in a way, but Cab Vol never had such great squealing guitar. And as a closing statement, "keep moving on" is a pretty good one.
And that is what i enjoy about Pinned and about APTBS in general: the band keeps trying new things, keeps experimenting with their formula. It's not like they are doing anything too radically different, and i suspect that those who already are not inclined to like noisy rock are not going to enjoy Pinned, but for those of us who enjoy the rock, A Place To Bury Strangers still have a lot to offer.