A Place To Bury Strangers, Transfixiation
I’ve never seen A Place To Bury Strangers live; after hearing Transfixiation, I’m not sure I’d survive the experience. Part of me wonders that, if I did, once I staggered, blood dripping steadily from my eardrums and my head full of darkness and fear and ruin, back out onto the street, maybe some new facet of the world I’d never fully recognized might suddenly reveal itself to me.
Or, on the other hand, I might just pass out in the gutter, sobbing uncontrollably and unable to remember what all had happened. Still, it’s damned tempting to give it a try.
See, the whole “revelation” thing comes to mind for me with Transfixiation, the band’s fourth full-length in a decade or so, there seems to be a progression going on, a journey, where things steadily get wilder and more raw as the disc rolls along. Opener “Supermaster” is uncertain and stumbling, with an innocent-yet-sinister vibe that makes me think of Balaclavas and an almost minimal (compared to everything that comes after, at least) arrangement. It drinks deep from the well of late-’80s/early-’90s post-punk, nicely uncomfortable as it slowly stutters to a stop mid-song, then seemingly shakes itself awake and kicks back into gear.
“Straight” ups the ante and gets things truly moving, with a grinding, crunching, ticking squall of murky, grimy (yet still somehow funky) noise, roaring down the pavement like a dirty, dirty version of The Raveonettes, or maybe a less meth-addled, more somnolent, “Swastika Eyes”-era Primal Screan. The guitars aren’t here to do anything as prosaic as carry a melody or riff, or even to slam down power chords, but rather to carve away chunks of sound like a rusty, broken-edged scalpel, and carve away they do, working at the edges of the rhythm and the overall cloud of sound until there’s only a jagged outline left.
The band may call New York City home, but their pedigree bridges the Atlantic, dwelling simultaneously in the realms of NYC No Wave and British-born post-punk/shoegaze, and it’s nowhere more obvious here than on the shoegazer-y double-punch of “Love High” and “What We Don’t See”. The former is My Bloody Valentine-esque, burying an actual melody beneath layer after distorted layer of noise, for a sound that’s not necessarily pleasant but still pulls you in, while the latter merges former NYC noisemakers Parts & Labor with the disaffected, flatly-delivered, Brit-tinged vocals of the Jesus & Mary Chain.
Right when you think things have turned a corner and reached a warmer, kinder place, though, “Deeper” drags you back down, bleak and menacing, with amps that sound like they’ve been lit on fire and left to burn slow. Guitarist/vocalist Oliver Ackermann growls and seethes below the haze, coming off like Reigns gone doom-metal or like Cop Shoot Cop’s Tod A. on an angry bender, and it’s flat-out scary. Instrumental “Lower Zone” provides a bit of breathing room after, dystopian and grim but still enthralling and sounding like it could’ve been a between-scenes track on the Blade Runner soundtrack (or maybe Akira, or Dredd?).
The soundtrack feel continues with “We’ve Come So Far,” turbulent and full-speed; it’s again Primal Scream-like, although the relentless bass brings to mind Black Rebel Motorcycle Club more than anything else (and yeah, I like the nice little bit of subway noise incorporated there at the end of the track). By this point, the journey I talked about back at the start has gone really damn deep, so damn deep you start to wonder if you’ll ever see daylight again. “Now It’s Over” is more serene, or at least more cautious and stationary, but even then it’s still dark as hell, and there’s not much respite to come.
I have a hard time differentiating between “I’m So Clean” and “Fill The Void” — both are raw and heavy, driving and tribal, with a dangerous, more punk-influenced vibe running throughout and a sound so thick and distorted you’ll think your speakers are collapsing in on themselves, destroyed by their own internal gravity well. I find myself thinking of The Black Angels at times, but really, A Place To Bury Strangers is its own unique, distinct beast from that band’s more genteel, classic-psych sound. Call APTBS the bitter, drugged-out-and-alone little brother, maybe, to The Black Angels’ head-nodding stoner-dude cool.
And then, with “I Will Die,” Transfixiation ends, as it absolutely should, in an ultra-noisy, messy, garage-tinged blast of psych fury…and you’re left on the floor, head in your hands. The journey’s over, with death as the final(?) stop. Any revelations gained after that, well, they’re yours to keep to yourself.
(Feature photo by Dusdin Condren.)