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Review: A Place to Bury Strangers Are Happy to Hurt You on ‘Transfixiation’

7
SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: February 17, 2015
Label: Dead Oceans

Let’s be clear: Oliver Ackermann is a happy guy. The seller of custom-crafted effects pedals to the likes of U2, TV on the Radio, and Trent Reznor, former owner of the late, great DIY venue Death by Audio, and possessor of perfect eyelashes and face-obscuring hair makes dour music by default. His band, A Place to Bury Strangers, is sad because he loves sadness, because he worships the Jesus and Mary Chain and the motorik monotone of Depeche Mode — even if he scowls at synths or any sound effects that weren’t stepped on. His angst is a put-on in thrall to his aesthetic ideal, just like Beth Gibbons turning her voice extra witchy on the second Portishead album. He might not know he’s ridiculous, but he knows he’s wearing a costume.

“I’m like a child / Showing anger / Weighted with guilt / Turn into a stranger,” go the opening lines of his unit’s fourth album, Transfixiation, and well, we know what this guy does with strangers. If Ackermann sings, then I’m Peter Murphy. Rather, he intones, ominously, over guitars that sound time-stretched with low-budget software when they’re probably being played in real time. But the driving force is Dion Lunadon’s bass — which is like an insistent heartbeat while Ackermann’s distant-minefield guitars unloose pixelated explosions all over it — and Robi Gonzalez’s drums, which by the next track, “Straight,” have divebombed head-on into punk. Rhythm’s important to this band for locking the chaos into place and grounding Ackermann’s simplicity into reluctant hooks, but never moreso on the album where he’s least out front, the most group-sounding effort they’ve made yet. This means you have to bother with even less of those lyrics than usual. Good: As long as Ackermann’s curb-stomping his pedals these guys will keep you awake, and the repetitions underneath keep him rock’n’roll.

The paint-peeling acridity of “Love High” approaches John Cale’s violin or Kevin Shields’ sonar loops; of course, the harshest thing here is the one that proves Ackermann has a heart after all. The title “I’m So Clean” is another great joke, and it leads into “Fill the Void,” a fakeout with an anti-“Be My Baby” intro that only takes a minute before grinding up everything in its path. And their range may be more compressed than ever before, but it’s still there: “What We Don’t See” tortures a pop song and entombs it alive, while stressful epic “Deeper” finally takes the plunge into doom-metal, swallowing you (and everything else in earshot) like a whale. A Place to Bury Strangers is one of those bands like Clinic; they’ve never made a bad album even if normal listeners have decided they only need one or two of them. Transfixiation might not be one of those two, but the abnormals have more fun, not just because APTBS’ catalog is more consistent and reliable than the Jesus and Mary Chain’s, but because it’s rancid comfort food in the best way. They’re so happy to be here.