Brooklyn’s A Place to Bury Strangers has always essentially been a Jesus and Mary Chain cover band. Yeah, the group trades in original material, that’s not being contested (it also makes its own effect pedals and throws in Cure-style chorused guitar bits over the overwhelming roar it generates, it should be known). But when you get down to it, over the course of a career that has so far spanned two previous LPs and a smattering of shorter releases, APTBS’ modus operandi has—either consciously or subconsciously—been to reverentially recreate the scarier moments of the Scottish noise pop act’s totemic Psychocandy. All the elements that make A Place to Bury Strangers appealing—the torrential rush of ear-splitting feedback, the harmonically simple sing-along chord progressions, vocalist Oliver Ackerman’s understated cool – are all drawn from a preexisting blueprint, and a readily recognizable one in the underground rock canon, at that.
It’s understandable, though, why A Place to Bury Strangers is so intent on recreating an aesthetic pioneered over 25 years ago. It’s a rather thrilling sound—that jerry-rigged welding of pop bliss and howling guitar chaos—that even the Mary Chain never exhausted to its full potential, having stripped back its characteristic sheets of white noise as soon as its second album. In the 21st century, A Place to Bury Strangers gamely took up the sonic baton dropped by its Scottish forbearers, making a reputation for itself in the last few years by pushing the volume and distortion to extreme levels, both on record and in concert. Indeed, when APTBS is at its most urgent and violent—as heard on the early high-watermark “Missing You”—the potency of the group’s primal roar manages to sweep aside all concerns about brazen unoriginality for a blissful few moments.
Being so dedicated to noise pop as a concept, the band isn’t about to throw its fanbase stylistic curveballs on the fittingly titled Worship, its third album. As always, there’s plenty of blown-out, overdriven guitar mayhem to make your next-door neighbors utterly loathe you once you hit the “play” button on your preferred playing apparatus. But while Worship once again wears the same influences transparently and unrepentantly on its sleeve, it somehow (barely) manages to get away with it.
Chalk it up to the execution. For instance, there’s nothing new to be found in the opening trifecta of “Alone”, “You Are the One”, and “Mind Control”. They’re all ominous noise rock assaults of the sort to be expected of APTBS, wrapped around Ackerman’s faithful replication of Jim Reid’s “too cool for school” laconicism. And yet they’re catchy, uncluttered numbers that have no trouble convincing listeners to rock the fuck out within the first few seconds of each cut. Much of their appeal stems from their insistent rhythms, restless beats that continually push the songs forward as if they were running for their lives from some advancing horror.
Yet A Place to Bury Strangers can’t help but overuse a good trick. The grooves often hit in the exact same swinging pattern that emphasizes specific off-beats. After a few repetitions the rhythms become as routine as Ackerman’s deadpan delivery. Another issue is that the grooves don’t always match the guitars laid on top of them for intensity, a cardinal sin of any percussive element. “Why I Can’t Cry Anymore” has this evil, needling bassline that so happens to be wedded to what sounds like the absolute shittiest drum machine from 1984 the band could find. If only APTBS displayed the same dedication it does to guitar tones to its beats (one of the coolest sounds heard on this LP is the textures in the intro to “Fear”, which are so jagged they’re like razor blades cutting through the speakers).
Given its narrow stylistic parameters, it can be easy to underestimate A Place to Buy Strangers at times. “Dissolved” features an elegiac first half that beautifully congeals before cleverly giving way to a faster B section daubed with a sprightly guitar part that could’ve been swiped from the Drums. And the band ends concludes album strongly with the bare-knuckle “Leaving Tomorrow”, a track that comes blazing out of the gate in a manner not typically expected of LP closers. Worship doesn’t break new ground, and it’s arguably not even the greatest record done in this vein (or even the greatest record by APTBS, for that matter). But there’s a diligent craftsmanship here and just enough attitude to carry the album all the way to the finish line. A Place to Bury Strangers undoubtedly has the aptitude for generating engaging rock music—if only it would work harder on cementing a unique stylistic identity.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.