Transfixiation is the best album A Place To Bury Strangers have made. That’s not to say anything that came before it wasn’t worthy of hurting our ears. But this time around Oliver Ackermann has given the already harsh, dark sound he creates something it really needed: a groove. It’s not all about the numbing squall of a hundred different effects pedals(though there’s still plenty of that), but there’s equal time for the drum and bass duo of Robi Gonzalez and Dion Lunadon to beef up the tracks with some heavy rhythm and backbone.
But there’s still plenty of numbing squall. In droves.
APTBS has a wooziness to their music that is both intoxicating and overwhelming. Usually after about three songs on any one of their records and you start to get the feeling everything is just about to explode. Ackermann is all about sensory overload and he does it like a champ. On Transfixiation, however, he’s honed the aural insanity in and creates direct hits with each song. “Supermaster” and its intensity is in its holding back. Drums and bass carry the song with whisps of guitar noise coming in and out as Ackermann’s subtle singing says “What have I become/What is it that I have done”. It’s a pretty stellar way to open the record. Then “Straight” blows out of the speakers like a bull on fire with some killer drums and bass. Ackermann has the swagger of Mark Sandman in his vocals, which adds to the New York cool of this track. “Love High” sounds like My Bloody Valentine had a love child with The Jesus and Mary Chain. A perfect blend of shoegaze dreaminess and post-punk jaggedness. “What We Don’t See” is nearly hallucinogenic till the drums kick in and then the song almost sounds like a Modern English track run through a tremolo pedal and a blown out speaker cabinet. Then we get to the ominous “Deeper”. Imagine Leonard Cohen fronting Suicide in 1976 and you might have an idea what this song is about. You can almost see Travis Bickle driving around grime-covered Times Square mouthing the words “If you f%#k with me, you’re gonna burn.” This is a dirge of a track.
I’ve always heard a bit of a connection between Ackermann’s songwriting and engineering prowess and that of Trent Reznor. “Lower Zone” is that connection I think. The song is subtle, heavy on bass, and big on distant squall and squeal. It’s short and instrumental, but something I could hear Reznor pull off perfectly. Both guys are studio wizards and are masters at manipulating sound. “We’ve Come So Far” is frantic, loud, and as romantic as I’ve ever heard APTBS get. As romantic as desperation, tension, and trash-strewn city streets can get. “I’m So Clean” is an old school grinder that sounds like The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “The Living End” covered by The Stooges. It’s an impenetrable wall of noise and it’s glorious. “I Will Die” is the most overblown, in-the-red song on here. There’s almost no discerning bass from drums from guitar. It’s just a massive wall of fuzz covered in metal shavings as Ackermann screams from the center of it.
Transfixiation feels like the album where A Place To Bury Strangers have found that balance of noise, melody, restraint, and release. The addition of Robi Gonzalez on drums has put the band over the top, and given them the beating heart they needed. With just a few palpitations here and there.
8.2 out of 10