The goal of any band with long-term viability in mind is to find new modes of expression, a consistent identity and songwriting skills that progress and develop more strongly over time. For A Place to Bury Strangers, that progression also includes finding new ways to make noise, and to build an ever more appealing vessel for the cacophony they create. On 2009’s Exploding Head, their distortion and feedback overload came encased in a crunchy, radio-friendly housing, still as dark and abrasive as ever, yet produced for slightly less masochistic listeners. The result, great as it was, presented a dilemma — add more polish and broaden the audience at the expense of the ear-splitting noise for which they built their brand, or dive back into the shrieks and explosions, and cast aside all concern for encroaching mainstream acceptance.
With their first full-length for Dead Oceans, the self-produced Worship, A Place to Bury Strangers lean pretty heavily on the latter decision, crafting an effects-caked box of paranoia and fear, and injecting in some grooves to keep the listener’s heart racing at a steady pulse. It’s an album that’s identifiably the product of APTBS, yet contains a significant emphasis on minimalism, the band finding a comfortable place outside of shoegaze where feedback bleeds in from outside, crashing and disrupting an otherwise more darkly subdued affair, relatively speaking.
Worship is most certainly a noisy album, and at a certain volume on the wrong pair of headphones, could very well turn out to be more antagonistic than its predecessor. Yet massive walls of distortion don’t quite engulf everything so much as make cameo appearances in a work of guitar-driven coldwave. “Why I Can’t Cry Anymore,” for instance, thumps and sputters with the jittery beat of `80s French duo Kas Product, while “Alone” clatters and clunks beneath reverb-treated mayhem like a dance party in a warzone. The stunning “You Are the One” is a masterpiece of restraint, with its slinky groove carrying some hypnotic psychedelic guitar riffs along for the ride. And with the unusually upbeat “And I’m Up,” the band pulls out some surf-influenced garage rock closer to Vivian Girls or Crystal Stilts than Big Black, which is a nice change of pace, and, of course, still pretty loud.
It’s essentially inconceivable to imagine A Place to Bury Strangers ever not being a supremely deafening band, and that’s just fine — noise, volume and sonic manipulation are a central part of their identity. But as time goes on, they’re still finding new things to do with it, and on Worship, they’re finding out that it subtlety can be a strong complement, no matter how out of control the effects treatments get.
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.