2018 Music Reviews

Album Review: A Place to Bury Strangers ‘Pinned’

When you hear a song by A Place To Bury Strangers, you know immediately that you’re listening to A Place To Bury Strangers. The New York-based band has been delivering their particular brand of shoegaze noise rock over the course of four albums and eight EPs. Their lyrics are often as hypnotic as the music itself, depending more on the sound the words make than any defined meaning.

The band’s newest album, Pinned, is also the first one recorded with APTBS’ new permanent drummer Lia Simon Braswell, who also sings. Her drumming and vocals fit the band’s aesthetic perfectly, and her playing, at times, adds a distinctly post-punk sound.

“There’s Only One of Us” opens with a rolling drumbeat that comes off like Bauhaus’ “Double Dare,” while “Was It Electric” and “Act Your Age” both feel like The Cure’s mid-1980s output. “Attitude” even veers towards the early years of New Order. Despite these welcome stylistic flourishes, Pinned remains remarkably true to the APTBS style: tidal waves of guitar feedback, chorus pedal basslines, distorted vocals and minimalist melodic structures.

“Never Coming Back” opens things with a constantly building tension, one that reaches more intense crescendos as the song continues. In the ode to getting lost and never wanting to be found again, possibly with the help of illicit substances, singer/guitarist Oliver Ackermann repeats the title over and over in between lines like “And I drift so low / and I get so high.” It begs the question: What is it that this person doesn’t want to return to?

Dion Lunadon’s atmospheric bass lines leave a lot of room to breathe for a track like “Situations Changes,” which allows a couplet like “I look down / it’s in my hand / pulling on the trigger / of the gun” to stand out in stark contrast. This phrasing hearkens back to the dissociative feel of “Never Coming Back,” as does a line like “it’s above / the floors / and through the hills / and past the sky.” The reason for such suicidal fantasies is clarified further in the line “I messed up / I know that / situations change and that’s the rule.”

Escapist fantasies dominate Pinned, even if the only way out is through death. “Execution” references Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, another example of something lost and never found, while “Too Tough to Kill” sees survival of the fittest as the only solution: “Kill more dumb shit / build more life forms.” This is what happens when the whole world seems fucked up because your world is fucked up. The personal apocalypse becomes a global one, or as “Situations Changes” notes, “Then you know what it’s like when Mother Nature dies.”

The album does end on a note of hopefulness, however. While “I Know I’ve Done Bad Things” is entirely devoted to the feelings of a person who wishes he could take those things back, the last track “I Keep Moving On” finds hope in the future: “I look / past what I did / and though it’s dim / I keep moving on.”

In a 2009 article for The Guardian, writer Ben Myers praised bands like The Ramones and AC/DC for basing “entire careers on one good idea.” The benefit to music fans, he argues, should be obvious: “Because, ultimately, we like familiarity; we want to know what we’re getting. It’s all about familiar signs and signifiers lighting the way through a world of chaos.” With Pinned, A Place to Bury Strangers shows that the band’s exploration of “one good idea” continues to yield amazing results.

Pinned was released on April 13 via Dead Oceans Records.

Leslie Hatton (@popshifter) is a Fannibal, an animal lover, a music maven and a horror movie junkie. She created and managed Popshifter from 2007 – 2017, and also contributes to Biff Bam Pop, Diabolique Magazine, Everything Is Scary, Modern Horrors, Rue Morgue and more.