A Place to Bury Strangers – Exploding Head
Record Label: Mute Records
Release Date: October 6, 2009
If Depeche Mode and My Bloody Valentine adopted a child they probably would have named it A Place to Bury Strangers. The New York based trio seems to have learned a lot from their two gay dads and Exploding Head plays with the poppier side of noise rock. Guitarist and singer Oliver Ackermann, aside from having the only normal last name in the band, has a day job building custom guitar pedals (deathbyaudio.net). So, when he picked up a guitar and immediately looked down at his shoes (get it?) it wasn’t terribly surprising. Along with bassist Jono Mofo, who’s oedipal complex is obvious in his bass lines (I made that last part up), and drummer Jay Space A Place to Bury Strangers plays a very loud and very melodic blend of shoegaze.
A Place to Bury Strangers isn’t as commercial as Silversun Pickups but they’re also not as unintelligible as My Bloody Valentine. Don’t get me wrong, every song is riddled with distortion and effects but each song remains melodic in a very, very loud way. Opener “It Is Nothing” works as an introduction to the album. In Ackermann’s words, “I started writing all of these really heavy songs and thought I was going to create a nonstop ride of fucked-up rock’n’roll but the melodies of the songs grew stronger and stronger,” and that’s exactly how the album plays out. Always tiptoeing the line of exploding into dirty, grungy noise (which wouldn’t have been a bad thing) but remaining tethered by melody. Second track “In Your Heart” feels vaguely industrial and evokes The Cure and 80’s synth pop. Ackermann croons the title over and over again in a way that is somehow lustful and disenchanted. The drums are pounding and constant and the effects stream in from everywhere.
Fourth track “Dead Beat” starts with a punk influenced bass line from Mofo (I laugh every time I have to write his name) and then is immediately interrupted by a wall of noise from Ackermann. Space does his best to keep the track moving right along and Ackermann reprimands us saying “What/ what the fuck?/ Don’t play with my heart.” The lyrical content on Exploding Head is sparse but that’s the way it should be. With all the noise it’s easy to forget about the lyrics and appreciate Ackermann’s voice for the simple way that it works with the music because that is the true focus of the album. Fifth track “Keep Slipping Away” dares to use clean guitar but plays heavily with vocal effects. The eponymous ninth track, “Exploding Head,” focuses on a bass line and these two songs showcase the versatility in Ackermann’s writing. He’s not content to simply use his guitar to drive the record in a genre focused on the sonic assault of distorted guitars.
The Washington Post dubbed A Place to Bury Strangers “the most ear-shatteringly loud garage/shoegaze band you’ll ever here.” It’s quite the praise for a shoegaze band. Exploding Head is an unbelievably loud and startlingly melodic collection of songs. Over and over again Ackermann threatens (or teases) us with the proposition of exploding into noise and perhaps this is what makes the album title so fitting. A Place to Bury Strangers is criminally unknown despite having toured with Nine Inch Nails and MGMT and are one of the most compelling arguments for allowing gay parents to adopt.