When you’re contained by walls on every side like New York City’s noise-rock band A Place To Bury Strangers, sometimes it’s best to adapt to those surroundings to survive. And seemingly, that’s what the band has done for years now, imitating that reverberated and echoed urban sound within its own blend of fuzz-heavy, pulsing shoegaze. Borrowing wall-of-sound techniques from revered ’80s noise pioneers, such as the Jesus And Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, with 2009’s Exploding Head, APTBS burrowed itself in a basement so dense and humid with layered distortion and vocal delay that it can make the unprepared listener feel claustrophobic. And with its latest release, Worship, not much has changed, except that maybe instead of using the walls just to influence a spacey, distorted sound, A Place To Bury Strangers uses them to create something so voluminous and ear-shattering that it knocks them down.
Like the grand gonzo Hunter S. Thompson often wrote, “Anything worth doing is worth doing right.” Likewise, if you’re going to listen to Worship, you should do so properly: full blast with the bass turned up. With the full effect of APTBS’ scraping and swirling guitars, rumbling basslines and hollow sing-speak vocals, tracks like “Worship” and “Alone” will not just be heard but felt. It’s like the ’90s all over again when your neighbors would bang on the wall because you were blasting the industrial rhythms and booms of Nine Inch Nails too loud.
But Worship as a whole leans too heavily on the noise-rock aspect, leaving the album, by the end, feeling convoluted and bloated. You can only stomach so much up-tempo screeching and distortion before you begin to feel polluted. “Why Can’t I Cry Anymore” and “Revenge,” while both great angsty, gothed-out tunes in their own right, feel redundant by the time you get to them. APTBS’ heavy, dragging tone is best taken in moderation, lest constant feedback and static is your thing; and for many die-hard noise-rock fanatics, that’s exactly the point. These abrasive textures are not for everyone, but they should at least be recognized for unapologetically pushing the noise-rock boundaries with each song.
Luckily, the band provides some melodic breaks within the album to give your over-driven noise pallet a rest. “Dissolved,” while still featuring the reverberating timbre of earlier songs, brightens and lightens up to an airy treble melody. And nearing the end of the album, “Slide” builds off of a dark staccato letting the musicianship, which is often made murky, really shine. With these two breaths of fresh air, A Place To Bury Strangers comes off more like the Cure as Oliver Ackermann’s vocals are at the forefront with striking similarities to the depressed cries of Robert Smith.
A Place To Bury Strangers succeeds in one aspect: It produces music so hammering and explosively airy that it crumbles the very walls used to create such an echoed and amplified sound. It just fails to recognize that in doing so for almost 45-minutes straight, we begin to feel like we’re getting buried alive under the rubble.