I never thought I’d compare a song by A Place to Bury Strangers to a 1980s John Hughes movie soundtrack, but we now live in interesting times. In 2020, longtime bassist Dion Lunadon and drummer Lia Simone Braswell left the group and then COVID-19 entered the scene. Like many musicians have done over the last two years, Oliver Ackermann — A Place to Bury Strangers’ central thread since 2003 — grieved the loss of not only his band but also that of a future spent not playing and performing music.
Luckily, Ackermann reconnected with longtime friend John Fedowitz (guitar) and his wife Sandra (drums/vocals) of Skywave, and A Place to Bury Strangers was reborn. The music that resulted — a six-song EP named Hologram — heralded a tremendously exciting direction for the band, and one that continues on the new lineup’s full-length 2022 release, See Through You.
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While the cover of 2018’s Pinned — a black and white closeup of an eye rolled back to show only the white — reflects an album full of frustration and despair, See Through You tints a photo of Ackermann’s face with purple and pink, and replaces his eyeballs with bright colors and patterns. And while Pinned often feels like the diary entries of someone suffering from a wound that wouldn’t heal, See Through You feels like a “Fuck you, I’m still here, and I’m happy,” plus lots and lots of hooks.
See Through You is one fantastic song after another, each one just as long as it needs to be, which leaves you wanting more. “Let’s See Each Other” must be A Place to Bury Strangers’ thirstiest song ever, one that’s not only lyrically sexy but musically, too. Bursting with prismatic reverb but held together by a seriously juicy groove and Fedowitz’ explosive drumbeats, the song is full of cheeky lyrics like “Your stories make me laugh / Let’s take some photographs / Every touch sends another shudder.”
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“Hold On Tight” is equally saucy with powerful bass work from Fedowitz and more clever, romantic lyrics, while “Anyone But You” is propelled by a staccato chorus with revved-up engines of guitar riffs, as A Place to Bury Strangers gets behind the wheel of Jesus and Mary Chain’s legacy and just drives as far and as fast as they can. The magical and uplifting “I Don’t Know How You Do It,” featuring lovely background vocals from Sandra, is a tonic for troubling times, even temporarily displacing the band’s trademark fuzz towards the end just long enough to further amplify the song’s giddy, yearning melodies.
And then there’s that John Hughes soundtrack tune, the outrageously great “Love Reaches Out,” with a beautiful, tremulous vocal from Ackermann and heartfelt, bittersweet lyrics. It’s the band’s finest hour yet (or at least five minutes and 25 seconds of it) and the best New Order song in decades that still sounds like A Place to Bury Strangers. (And don’t you dare characterize that as an insult.)
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Ackermann once described Hologram as “the glimmer of hope or something, the need for a future,” but this could easily apply to See Through You, which feels more like the band’s exhilarating 2007 debut album than anything else in their catalogue. A Place to Bury Strangers has never reached the critical heights they attained with that album, despite a long and impressive career. See Through You should change that.
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.