A Place To Bury Strangers Transfixiation

[Dead Oceans; 2015]

Styles: noise rock
Others: J&MC, MBV, Shellac

The whirlwind that is A Place To Bury Strangers’ core sound — the mystifying, screeching guitars; the blown-out rhythm section; the cavernous vocal treatments — create a sense of space and violence that is larger than what seems possible. Steely timbres and brilliant colors of noise fill the air. Enigmatic blasts of processed sound assert a potential for building unconventional emotional experiences, the kind that feel visceral, restorative, invigorating. The noise on Transfixiation is a proxy for some kind of abstract feeling, or for perhaps several at once: conflict, distress, attraction, feeling trapped between fear and anger, joy and worry, striking out against anomie. The lyrics, in contrast, tend to reduce the album’s focus to more terrestrial places, a counterpoint to the ambiguous mood of whammy-d chords and spastic bursts of squealing feedback. A good balance of the two can be dreamlike, a commanding human presence driven by otherworldly sonic treats. A bad balance is like having someone else describe their dream to you, because it’s long and pointlessly weird and not half as interesting as they think it is.

The one thing shared among my favorite rock songs is that, when you finish listening to them, you feel like you’ve accomplished something or conquered some small personal evil — a little moment of personal maturation, something to keep you going in life, even if it’s only a temporary distraction from the truly insurmountable evils of the world. In that sense, the appeal of ABTPS’ music shares the appeal of things like scream therapy, arguing on the internet, and for some people, arson. Oliver Ackermann’s militarized pedalboard offers a slew of fist-pumping melodies charged with righteous anger, overdriven to the point where you feel heat coming off the speakers and swear you can probably kick the whole world’s ass.

“Fuck with me and you’re gonna burn;” at this impasse, it sounds like a cool thing to say. Yet there’s some lingering feeling that it sounds a little more clever in your head than it will when you’re speak-singing it in a Trent Reznor-at-the-library voice. You’d be right in that regard, but you wouldn’t be as brave as APTBS. Nor would you be brave enough to write a woofer-wrecking novelty centerpiece like “Deeper” and make it last six odious minutes. Then again, a decent amount of criticism has already been made on this particular track, and while I admit it isn’t great, it probably works better live where the bass is hopefully so loud you can’t hear much else.

Stronger songs like “Straight” and “What We Don’t See” have a better vocal presence, but none of the lyrics on the album particularly stand out. What really works about these songs are the same aspects that worked for this band in the past: the bristling energy, the uncanny shrillness, the shortness of breath that comes when you start with a surprise and never relent. “Straight” literally accelerates the record off the staid pace of opener “Supermaster” into a chugging punk riff and stays there for three minutes, confident in making its solitary point. “We’ve Come So Far” is similarly bombastic, starting at full intensity and pushing ever so slightly into total abandon. It’s a one-note idea, but it’s a loud, bizarre, impenetrable one.

“The lyrics were written by themselves. The meaning is absolute truth. Life is super intense and fucked up so even accomplishing anything is a huge feat. We should all be proud of that. When we have worked extremely hard for something for so long it is just amazing to look back on it all.”

This quote from Ackermann is about “We’ve Come So Far,” but it doubles as a mission statement for the album. All these songs share a similar bewilderment, chock full of world-beating platitudes and searing guitars that try to evoke nothing less than the brutal totality of existence. And Transfixiation kind of just works at this one level, where it’s immense and over before it’s even begun. Transfixiation’s weakest points are its fixations, when it lingers too long on a verse clearly aching for the payoff of a chorus or when it tries for serious by way of obscene. These flaws may be from a band eager to grow artistically, so it seems insulting to say “don’t try so hard.” But these types of songs are best left as questions, unanswered, thrilling in their limitless potential, rather than as answers, domestic and familiar.

Links: A Place To Bury Strangers - Dead Oceans

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