This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Genre: Noise Rock
Favorite Songs: “There’s Only One Of Us,” “Was It Electric”
For their fifth full-length effort, PINNED, A Place To Bury Strangers find themselves struggling to balance the old and the new. While trying to capitalize on the new addition of drummer/background vocalist Lia Simone Braswell, who joined the band in 2016, the elements of the old that, more often than not, hinder the group on this release are delivering loud, abrasive songs that are firmly rooted in the realms of post-punk and shoegaze. While there are definitely some progressive moments that demonstrate Braswell’s contributions in the studio are a major plus for the New York noise rock group, PINNED ultimately seems to be following the guiding mantra of “in with the new, but keep the old close by.”
Album opener “Never Coming Back” is a stagnant offering that constantly plods across a long plateau as you desperately wait for it to explode into an untamed dissonance that listeners have grown to expect from the group. The jarring noise from aggressive guitar bends and feedback are present, but it seems like they are only there because they are expected to be. Braswell’s vocal additions to lead singer Oliver Ackermann’s signature removed delivery is the track’s one spark that makes the song somewhat memorable. “Execution” continues this pattern as the laser-imitating guitars and explosion sound effects during the chorus seem phoned-in for the sake of meeting a cacophony quota.
Things start looking up with “There’s Only One Of Us,” a powerful groove that sounds like it’s coming straight out of Joy Division’s Manchester. Braswell and Ackermann split vocal duties and the results are most welcome—honestly, her contributions to PINNED are the few highlights on the record. Her soothing and reserved delivery on “Never Coming Back,” “There’s Only One Of Us,” and “Situations Change” manage to keep the heads of what would otherwise be pretty boring songs above water. “Too Tough To Kill” is another PINNED standout, thanks yet again to the dual vocals. Braswell’s voice is positively haunting, creating additional tension that is already developed by her frantic drumming.
Braswell cannot carry all the weight, however; even her strong vocal presence cannot save the painfully repetitive single “Frustrated Operator.” Built on what can only be described as lazy lyricism, the track finds Ackermann and Braswell delivering lines like “Hot Potato / Operator” a few too many times.
“Was It Electric” is the main standout on PINNED, and is easily the most interesting piece on the album. The song opens with a beautifully clean guitar lead backed by spacious ringing chords, and the guitar is soon picked up by a rock solid post-punk groove laid down by Braswell and bassist Dion Lunadon. “Was It Electric” finally provides the dynamics that are missing on the rest of the album. The swell of noise that erupts midway through the track builds naturally from hushed drums and whispering guitars before hitting you with a sonic tidal wave that feels authentic on an LP that frequently seems like the band is going through the motions, something that hinders PINNED overall.
With five albums under their belt, A Place To Bury Strangers have their formula dialed in. Ackermann’s guitar still packs a punch, Lunadon’s bass lines are as reliable as ever, and Braswell’s pounding drums and strong vocals are a welcome addition to the group’s sound. However, it’s simply not enough to keep PINNED from sounding thin and a tad contrived. While I’ve never seen the group live, I have heard they are quite a force to be reckoned with. In fact, Dead Oceans’ press release for PINNED refers to their live sets as “unpredictable and often bewildering.” After sitting with the album for a few weeks, it is hard to imagine that the tracks from PINNED that make it into A Place to Bury Stranger’s live set would hold up to that reputation.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend