A Place To Bury Strangers are the closest thing to a "cyberpunk" band
you're likely to find nowadays, and I write that realizing that
cyberpunk is a genre that saw its heyday in the mid '80s. Indeed,
APtBS seem to capture that period in its entirety, taking everything
from New Wave to Punk to early Industrial, encapsulating it within a
wall of static -- the "dead channel" sound here provided by lead
singer Oliver Ackermann's custom-made effects pedals -- and throwing
it against a wall of sound to see what sticks. As with most things
that stick when thrown to walls (I will leave the specifics to your
imagination), the stickiness is much reduced when you try to pick away
at the edges to find out why it's so sticky. Pull too much away, try
to dig too deep, and the whole thing falls to the floor and gets eaten
by the dog. But if you leave it alone, experience it as a whole, and
don't worry too much about the why or how of it, you'll find it's just
about the stickiest, spaciest toy in the box.
Album opener "It is Nothing" revs up like a steel horse before
settling in and setting the tone for the remainder of the album, a
steady churn that continues to one degree or another until the machine
finally settles down and dies a steely death amidst the white noise
quicksand of "I Lived My Life to Stand in the Shadow of Your Heart."
Amidst the wash it's possible to pick out some JAMC here, some BRMC
there -- two groups cited as influences, along with the unsurprising
Ministry, Curve, The Cure, Joy Division and Medicine, among others, on
the band's MySpace page -- but to attempt to discern influences is
akin to staring at one of those "Magic Eye" posters. Sure, if you look
long enough you'll see something back there in the white noise, but
there's also the overall piece to experience, and enjoy. Don't pick --
let it stick.
This is not to say that "A Place To Bury Strangers" is a noise band,
despite their being called "the loudest band in New York City"; far
from it. There's a great deal of melody here, but it almost takes a
back seat to the constant wash of fuzz that overlays each track to one
degree or another, up or down but never completely off. "Lost Feeling"
tones it down some, building slowly with slow, steady vocals recited
Curelike through a wall of thin fog, occasionally thickening before
tapering off once again, then rising up into a curtain of distortion.
"Keep Slipping Away" turns down the static and ups the gothic quotient
just a notch, cleverly fading out into nothingness at the very middle
of the album before slowly fading in to "Ego Death," a heavy, angry,
downright necromantic ditty that begs to destroy your eardrums with
Some of the band's most "radio-friendly" material comes at the tail
end of the album, although that term definitely needs to be wreathed
in quotation marks. "Smile When You Smile" almost has a John Hughesish
vibe, but it's more "Coquettish in Chrome" than "Pretty in Pink," more
cyber than punk. "Exploding Head" is possibly the most accessible song
on the album, reminiscent of The Faint's "Agenda Suicide" with a bit
less less danse macabre and a bit more "deus ex machina," the perfect
song to define David Cronenberg circa 1982, somewhere betwixt the head-
explody of "Scanners" and the cyberweirdness of "Videodrome." Of
course, when "accessible" is mentioned alongside "Cronenberg," you
have to realize you're on a whole different level here, which brings
us back to our initial lesson: stare too long at the noise, try to see
the hidden image, and you'll only give yourself a headache. Step back,
tune into the dead channel, and let it ride on black and chrome.
Favorite Track: "I Lived My Life to Stand in the Shadow of Your Heart"