A Place To Bury Strangers
, June 22nd, 2012 08:49
This is a record that demands to be turned up loud. Even more than most, it sounds better the louder you play it, because that's the way it was designed. Though constructed from feedback and abrasion, pounding beats and thuggish bass, the music never distorts painfully, never loses its shape or blurs around the edges as it reaches the point of overload. There was once a band called Manicured Noise, and this is what Worship sounds like; cleanly sculpted edifices of grimy, spitting, shrieking sound, given beauty and dignity by the way they've been shaped, and their isolation in fields of silence.
On opener 'Alone', machine-tooled beats and monotone bass plough single-mindedly through the roars of dive-bombing Stukas, the Jim Reid style too-wasted-to-care vocals utterly detached from the carnage and danger all around. A zombie revenant of Primal Scream's Xtrmntr, when the overdriven guitars finally kick in, your eardrums threaten to burst as though heading towards the edge of space far too fast. It cuts dead just in time, and 'You Are The One' materialises from the abyss; stripped back three chord goth disco, lacerated with silvery shards of sound. It descends into a uniquely twisted psychedelic maelstrom of shrieking, manipulated feedback before 'Mind Control' punches in, a dumb, driving rocker painted in hyper-black and strobe-lit red, a hot rod race with the Raveonettes left ragged in the dust.
So far, so great. But a common and somewhat justified criticism of A Place To Bury Strangers is that they seem more concerned with sonics than songs. Make no mistake, this record sounds amazing; the perma-shaded, amphetamine-cocooned, black leather baby of your dankest, drug-dungeon dreams. It's how, when you're speeding, you want music to sound: nasty and twisted, but also clean, sharp-edged, and above all propulsive. Worship is certainly that; it's also extremely melodic, in a pretty basic fashion, which is definitely a bonus. But in choosing to stick to classic song structures rather than utilise their incredible sound technology to explore the experimental avant-garde, or to make killer dance tracks, A Place To Bury Strangers run the risk of all their songs sounding pretty much the same.
This isn't necessarily a problem however, any more than it was for the Ramones, whose endless recapitulation of the three chord trick was an essential part of their aesthetic, or the Cramps, who were always, wonderfully, just the Cramps. In fact, I suspect the Ramones and the Cramps remain an ur-text for A Place To Bury Strangers just as much as the more obvious likes of the Jesus and Mary Chain or the Sisters of Mercy, or Motorhead or My Bloody Valentine, in their love for a grotesque cartoon vision of rock & roll, a determination to just keep doing it, over and over, because if it ain't broke, don't fix it, just make it bigger, louder, faster. Only dullards like Martin Amis declare war on cliché; genius exploits, celebrates and subverts instead.
Secondly, once you've accepted that the songs themselves are gonna operate within some pretty tightly defined limits, and realised that this actually adds to the strength and cohesion of the band's vision, then actually they don't sound the same at all. From the sidewalking swagger of the title track to the near-choral feedback symphonies and repeated, tension-filled descents of 'Fear,' to the way 'Dissolved' begins as a damaged, elegiac ballad, a smudged, 4AD, Modern English, adolescent-cinematic kind of thing, then half way through picks itself up, wipes its nose, takes a swig of Thunderbird and starts chicken dancing around its bedroom, pulling the Cocteau Twins posters off the walls with fuck-you glee.
In fact, though the explosions, feedback and gonzo blitz-beats may grab the attention first, what makes A Place To Bury Strangers special is precisely their use of melody, alongside the clean, echo-jangle lead guitar lines that cut through the dank clouds of noise and the restrained, breathy vocals, rather than screams and bellows, that cloak the whole project in a layer of autumnal dust and cough syrup smudge, bringing just enough of the laudanum tincture wasted romanticism of high goth to keep their records from devolving into macho assault course music. And they never slip into po-faced pretention or preciousness either; 'Slide' may suggest a swaggering steampunk waltz, in Victorian wedding dress and gasmask, showing the last lingering traces of the Cure influences that surfaced on previous album Exploding Head, but it's bookended by 'And I'm Up' and 'Leaving Tomorrow,' gnarly but catchy surf-pop songs both, the latter the burnt and blackened carcass of Dick Dale's 'Miserlou' dragged back to the beach one last time, technically and chemically reconstructed, and sent out to ride the nearest tsunami. Hahaha!! Wiiiipe out!!!!