Sound — 6
With "the loudest band in New York" being named A Place To Bury Strangers, one's first assumption of their music would jump to the most brutal of death metal that fundamentalists cite as being catalysts for the violent culture that's ruining the youth. In reality, APTBS are just another outfit of noise-obsessed hipsters from Brooklyn, but with their penchant for their loud live performances (a more fitting description would be "giant aural clouds of ear-splitting miasma"), they certainly stand on an equal platform to death metal bands in terms of decibels.
APTBS goes hand in hand with Death by Audio, founded by frontman Oliver Ackermann, an audio company specializing in making effect pedals - the only partnership that could be more ideal than this is if Taco Bell started opening restaurants inside of marijuana dispensaries. Not only that, but the Death by Audio warehouse was also a cultural hot spot in Brooklyn, functioning as a recording studio and performance venue, until it finally had to close down in 2014 due to Vice Media's acquiring of the space (a scene that reads like a post-modern hipster adaptation of Game of Thrones).
It's obvious that these advantages helped fertilize APTBS into the indie darlings they are today, but as the heavily-inspired-by-early-era-The Jesus and Mary Chain band that they are, they've done a good job at it. With upbeat post-punk style rhythms paired with permeating layers of guitars and synths thick as molasses and Ackermann's morose voice for the cherry on top, they became a prominent figure in the current wave of shoegazing/noise rock after the release of their critically-acclaimed self-titled debut album. Despite unapologetically sticking to an indie niche when it comes to their overall aesthetic, APTBS have still claimed some great moments of exposure, having toured with Nine Inch Nails, MGMT, and, perhaps most satisfactorily, even sharing the stage with The Jesus and Mary Chain.
But with it being nearly ten years since the release of their debut album, their niche is starting to wane, as seen in APTBS's fourth album, "Transfixiation," which still has the band using the same bag of tricks since the first time around. While the progression of noise in "Supermaster" or the wall-to-wall sound orgies in "We've Come So Far" are good examples of APTBS just doing what they do, the general anti-melody tactics in their playbook plague the majority of the album with dulling homogeneity. Nuanced their pedal-laden noise may technically be, the substance and structure remains the same - where '80s-era rhythm sections act as coal to keep the train moving, and noxious noise billows from the smokestack - and tracks like "Love High," "What We Don't See," "I'm So Clean," "Now It's Over," "Fill the Void" and "I Will Die" are basically interchangeable with one another.
Only a few songs bear some concrete distinction to them: "Deeper" is the only down-tempo track, which wields a heavy amount of sound that can rightfully be classified as "doomgazing"; "Lower Zone" is an interstitial instrumental, where Ackermann's guitar howling is surrounded by synth loops; and with "Straight" being the least frilly track on the album, the subdued guitar parts actually help it stand out better than the tracks that let the guitar run rampant. But from front to back, the album decreases in interest the further you get through it.
Lyrics — 6
Ackermann's lyrics have always been unabashedly angsty, which fits well with the music it's paired with and even better with the voice that delivers them. But though "Transfixiation" still has those angsty lyrics in spades, Ackermann's articulation of his sullenness is as subtle as a gut punch. With the first line of the opening "Supermaster" foreshadowing the rest of the album's lyrical matter ("I'm like a child showing anger"), Ackermann is going to tell you how upset he is, and composure is the least of his concerns. Still wrapped up in his girl troubles, he takes simple hooks and pounds them into the listeners' heads - from brooding "if you f--k with me, you're gonna burn" in "Deeper" and hopelessly guilt-tripping his heartbreaker in "I Will Die," to the incessant chanting of attempting to quell the feeling of emptiness in "Fill the Void," which essentially takes the violent fantasy of the "A Place To Bury Strangers" song "To Fix the Gash in Your Head" and ups the ante to serial killer levels. The lack of articulation does more good for APTBS' previous releases if anything (it makes the lyrics in "Worship" look like Shakespeare in comparison), but with Ackermann's lyrics and vocals oftentimes being filtered and then buried six feet deep in sound, sub-par lyrical efforts aren't really the deadly chink in the armor of "Transfixiation."
Overall Impression — 5
As much as APTBS are compared to The Jesus and Mary Chain, they're quite different in how they move about stylistically. Though TJAMC will always been seen as seminal to noise rock, they're duly known for hopping around different sounds from album to album. APTBS, on the other hand, have stayed in the exact same place since album one. "Transfixiation" is more of the same, and while that would entail an enjoying listen for those that liked the band's other three albums, the staleness in sound is further evident this time around. Sure, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," but when "Transfixiation" sounds exactly the same as its predecessors, what's the point?