A Place To Bury Strangers – Pinned (Dead Oceans)

Maybe being labelled “the loudest band in New York” could be a curse in disguise. Under the weight of an expectation like that, you have to make sure there’s still something of substance present in your music when extreme volume is out of the equation. A Place To Bury Strangers have done well to ensure this over most of their discography. But, on their fifth album Pinned, they show signs of faltering and falling victim to the noise-over-content trap.

Screeching guitars and driving rhythms serve constantly to remind us how hard this would go live (just look on YouTube, it does) – but without that extreme sonic experience, through headphones or small home speakers, the album has little else to stand on in terms of musical structure and songwriting.

On Pinned the group deliver more of their usual mix of post-punk and noise rock. Sonically it’s everything you could want in this vein – driving bass lines, washed-out vocals, sharp snappy electronic-sounding drums (courtesy of new drummer Lia Simon Braswell, making her studio debut for the band), and of course squalls of violent guitar noise from guitar-noise wizard-in-chief Oliver Ackermann.

If there’s anything to differentiate it from their previous four efforts, it’s that Pinned leans more heavily and consistently on classic post-punk features, steering clear of the shoegazy rock that was previously thrown into the mix. At the same time, the band have opted for murkier lo-fi production than on anything since their self-titled 2007 debut. As a result, the album sounds noticeably amateur, which is both endearing and underwhelming at the same time. The vocals are distant and watery and lack presence, despite the welcome new addition of Braswell’s female backing vocals.

However, I do like the change of the drum sound to a more processed one. Braswell’s sharp punchy rhythms being made to sound synthetic and almost drum-machine-like, in the manner of classic 80’s post-punk.

The album is also, undoubtedly to many fans’ delight, their harshest and noisiest yet in the guitar department, Ackermann often leaving the main melodic work to Dion Lunadon’s busy bass playing, and withdrawing completely before arriving to colour in the empty space with atonal screeches or walls of industrial distortion. Sounds great right?

Unfortunately, the album’s sonic features don’t quite succeed in masking a lack of any memorable songwriting or musical arrangements. Strip away the noisy guitars and you’re left with 12 mostly typical dead-centre post-punk songs, mostly without any memorable hooks or variety in repetition. The exception is the album’s one great pay-off, the dreamy Situation’s Change, which features the most effective unison of Ackermann and Braswell’s voices over an instrumental that could have come straight from the sessions for The Cure’s Seventeen Seconds.  This moment aside though, most of the vocal melodies are static and unmemorable, as are the musical repetitions that make up the entirety of the songs.

If Pinned proves two things, it’s A) that A Place To Bury Strangers sure know how to make noise, perfectly tailoring their music to their famously great live shows, and B) that no matter how loud your concerts are, a recorded album requires other qualities to stand on in order to succeed in someone’s bedroom.

Ruben Mita.