In 2009, when New York eardrum destroyers A Place to Bury Strangers made their first leap to a label with the Mute-released Exploding Head, the band emerged with a noticeably cleaned up sound, relatively speaking. For a band whose self-described style is “total sonic annihilation,” they didn’t exactly abandon the distortion and feedback that had made their debut such a scorchingly devastating update on shoegaze and noise rock. Rather, they just tuned it up a little, with crisper production and enough sharpening around the edges to land a minor radio hit with “In Your Heart.”
Having made the move to Dead Oceans for their new EP, Onwards to the Wall, A Place to Bury Strangers haven’t made their production values any glossier, nor their noise any less piercing. If anything, the band has found a way to make their hooks shine brighter through ever more abrasive arrangements. On this brief, five-song EP, the band doesn’t lighten their approach in the slightest, yet their songs seem to opt for just a little more pop appeal underneath the shrieking din. “So Far Away” is an immediate favorite, with Smiths-style jangle riffs chiming amidst the ever-present assault of distortion. The title track doesn’t quite explode in the same, unapologetic fashion, but its Joy Division-inspired gothic pulse is seductive in its own darkly compelling way. And “Nothing Will Surprise Me” features some truly bizarre guitar sounds, as if Kevin Shields substituted a duck for his Jazzmaster.
As the first brief taste of new music from A Place to Bury Strangers in more than two years, Onwards to the Wall reveals the band in fine form, as concise and focused as they’ve ever been. Another 20 minutes of this would really hit the spot.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.