A Place to Bury Strangers leader Oliver Ackermann downplays his band’s reputation as the loudest band in New York. “I guess that sounds cool and dangerous if you’re impressed by loudness. But it’s not really our focus to be the loudest band anywhere.” Fair enough, but the point stands: this band is really, really, really loud. Ackermann runs the pedal company Death By Audio (which also leant its name to a Williamsburg, Brooklyn D.I.Y. venue that closed last winter), and often uses the stage as a testing ground for his innovative analog creations. One of the best-known? Total Sonic Annihilation. His band’s music manifests as noisy, reverberating post-punk, Ackermann’s feedback-ridden squall showering over a relentless rhythm section.
The band burst onto the national scene in 2007 with their pummeling self-titled debut album. Like effects-heavy predecessors My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain, A Place to Bury Strangers isn’t afraid to mix a pretty melody in with the aural attack. “Don’t Think Lover,” for example, was a gorgeous pop song wrapped in layers of razor wire. But things got a bit more menacing on “I Know I’ll See You” and the early-album terror of “To Fix the Gash in Your Head.” Paired in concert with blinding strobe lights and dizzying video projections, they become disorienting, overwhelming, and, frankly, transcendent. APTBS shows are unlike almost any others, captivating to both to the gearhead (and I speak as a guilty party) and the musical escapist.
The group has released three more albums, most recently this year’s Transfixation on Dead Oceans Records. None of them have strayed terribly far from the original formula: jagged guitars, squalling feedback, and vague, ominous lyrics. For a hardcore fan, it’s more of a good thing, although the casual observer may want to start with the first LP. But live, it all blends, time sort of stops, and complete sensory overload sets in. It’s a unique, visceral experience that has to be seen (and heard) to be believed.