Brooklyn noise rock architects A Place To Bury Strangers have never shied from playing their specific brand of loud-as-hell shoegaze. Whether live or in the studio (from the band’s eponymous 2007 debut to their sophomore LP Exploding Head, and across countless EPs), APTBS consistently produces an engrossing yet brutal collision of sounds driven by frontman Oliver Ackermann’s obsession with effect pedals. With their third LP Worship, little has changed in terms of their affection for “noise,” but the album is indicative of a band filling out its sound, creating a tripped out, psychedelic cacophony that takes inspiration from sources ranging from post-punk, new wave, and shoegaze to indie and even grunge.
After releasing their first two albums on Killer Pimp and Mute Records, respectively, Worship is APTBS’ first with Bloomington, Indiana indie label Dead Oceans (The Tallest Man On Earth, Akron/Family, Dirty Projectors), and features the band’s return to production duties after working with Andy Smith on Exploding Head. Their DIY renaissance is something in which Ackermann and company take pride, with bassist Dion Lunadon proclaiming that, “This album was written, recorded, mixed and mastered by A Place To Bury Strangers. … Every sound on the album is made by us and our tools; tools created by us, used on no other recordings, and purposefully built for this project.”
Although Lunadon certainly wasn’t lying (Ackermann did found Death By Audio), Ackermann’s statement that, “No producer made us. We didn’t go to school for any of this and we don’t have time for tutorials” rings a bit hollow, because APTBS clearly learned quite a bit from their work with Smith on Exploding Head. In fact, the bandleader admitted as much in an interview with Sentimentalist in 2009 and, with this latest effort, there’s no denying that APTBS is continuing their search for “the next level of hi-fi”.
And the early returns indicate that the band’s pursuit of that next level is bearing fruit, as each track on Worship is a grouping of distinct, engaging, and at times arresting noises that merge to form beautiful expansive blasts of sound that run the gamut from sludgy, face-melting punk rock (“Mind Control”, “Leaving Tomorrow”) to entrancing shoegaze dreamscapes (“You Are The One”, “Dissolved”). Opener “Alone” hits the ground running with a dirge of a bass line that would make Bleach-era Krist Novoselic proud, clashing, angular guitars, and breathless vocals. It is loud, dark, brooding, and menacing—roping in the listener with its demonic rhythms.
The album’s first single “You Are The One” follows with a psychedelic, atmospheric expanse bolstered by Ackermann’s use of distortion to build tension throughout. After a series of emotional ups-and-downs in this driving jam, it all collapses into a black hole of feedback. Take a listen below (via Dead Oceans):
Two more sludgy bass lines dominate on “Mind Control” and the title track. The former is an eerie, distortion-filled three minutes about obsession and submission, and features Ackermann’s voice cut to sound like some sort of Big Brother character, while the latter is heavily-80s influenced, finding its groove behind an understated, but driving and dirty guitar riff.
“Fear” kicks off with an overload of fuzz before drummer Jay Space’s unrelenting beat and Ackermann’s droning voice take over. It’s tracks like this where APTBS truly shines—slowly swirling guitars and distortion dancing over a straightforward rock rhythm section with vocals that exude an audible warmth. “Dissolved” follows with an equal dose of that same warmth, an ethereal, anthemic shoegaze track that turns pop-ish and which would have fit perfectly on any quality 80s movie soundtrack (maybe Say Anything… or The Breakfast Club).
The raging tempo of “Alone” and “Mind Control” returns on the laughably-titled “Why I Can’t Cry Anymore”, a seizure-inducing wall of noise that envelopes you in fuzzed-out vocals and guitars and a huge but muddy bass line. “Revenge” starts off in much the same manner, adding an industrial, grinding edge before it turns into a punk rock feedback fest at the halfway mark.
“And I’m Up” (the second song released off the album) artfully injects a rare foot-stomping rhythm into a shoegaze track. Like “Fear” before it—albeit at a faster tempo—”And I’m Up” rides the crest of a softly played, simple drumbeat while enveloping the listener in a fantastic expanse of guitars and distortion. Check it out below (again via Dead Oceans):
“Slide” drops the tempo back down, returning to the dreamscape mode of “You Are The One” and “Dissolved” with a lament of a crumbling relationship, before Worship appropriately closes with the frenetically-paced and calamitous “Leaving Tomorrow”.
It is a fitting end to a loud and often aggressive album, one which spans a range of emotions from love and longing to obsession and even morose sadness. Injected with searing guitars and intricately administered doses of feedback and distortion backed by rolling drums and bass, Worship deftly maintains the delicate balance required when dealing with such extreme sonic elements, turning what some term “noise” into moving (although extreme) soundscapes and entrancing rhythms.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.