[6 November 2007]
A Place to Bury Strangers are a precious gift for those of us who will always carry a torch for the delirious rush of pre-1990s Jesus and Mary Chain, and the glistening chill of late Joy Division. Add in a little Cure circa Pornography and this debut is quite a treat.
It’s very common for groups to claim creative kinship with sources that seem entirely absent in their music. It’s also common for a band with few ideas to duplicate the past and bask in the reflected second-hand glory of their influences. It’s more unusual for a group to actually make accurate use of certain blueprints, adding their own design flourishes to produce something concrete, sustainable, and inspired.
But this is essentially what A Place to Bury Strangers have achieved. Their leader, Oliver Ackermann (who builds a variety of one-off fuzz boxes, effects-pedals, filters and such like at his company Death by Audio for the likes of Wilco, Lightning Bolt , and Spoon), is not content to merely recycle, nor to wrap a void of originality in smoke and mirrors. He takes sound by the scruff of the neck and lashes it into shape for our edification. Ackermann’s previous project was the JAMC/My Bloody Valentine-soaked Skywave. Now, with drummer Jay Space and bassist Jono Mofo, he has honed a precision whirlwind, and the time is right to blow some people away. The first pressing of this disc on Killer Pimp sold like the proverbial hot-cakes, and I reckon they are not done yet.
The sophisticated rawness of “Missing You” launches the record off with a cracking pace and glamour at which the House of Love might cast an envious glance. “The Falling Sun” should have to undergo an audio autopsy to confirm that it did not actually fall off the b-side of a Joy Division single. The leaden pace, sheets of wobbly synth, and Ackermann’s cold, grave voice create a piece of shimmering ecstasy. The album also contains one of the most thrilling pieces of the year, “Another Step Away”. Starting with a marvelous, attention-grabbing scratched rhythm and hauntingly cold vocals, the moment at around the 40-second mark when Mofo‘s bass kicks in is an absolutely priceless piece of, well, state-of-the-art rock and roll! Fetch my leather jacket! And gimme a Zippo lighter for my birthday, ‘cos what the hell, I might just start smoking and using the word “chick”. The band seems to want to let that track sink in, as the gap before the next one seems a little longer than the gaps between others. It’s as if they are saying, “Huh. Well. What did you think of that?” They also are clever enough not to then sit back, but instead break the silence with a lovely supersonic repetitive riff-thrash of distorted anti-funk called “Breathe”.
I have seen A Place to Bury Strangers billed as the Loudest Band In New York. Being loud is like driving fast; anyone can simply turn the sound way up, or put their foot on the accelerator and leave it there. Without a clear sense of direction and dexterity, speeding is not advisable. Likewise, if you are an untalented, boorish dunce, loudness is the last thing that will enamor you to an audience. Ackermann has the musical memory, the technical sophistication, the voice, and the instinct to channel brashness and energy into a sublime wave of melodic effluent, upon which the band, and we, can surf. Someone had better alert that Coppolla chick, because she is sure to want to use some of this in her films. (Breathes deep) I love the sound of distortion in the morning.