A Place To Bury Strangers has long relied on their live reputation to carry them through the hard-to-navigate musical waters of shoegaze. And, while I cannot speak to the intensity of their performance, their studio releases have never seemed to me anything very distinct from the vast numbers of bands with very similar sonic palettes.
Both their self-titled debut and 2009’s Exploding Head seemed the product of a few guys with instruments and copies of Loveless and Psychocandy. That’s not to say it was wholly derivative, but it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to attribute a large portion of their sound to their obvious influences on the more punishing edge of the shoegaze front. The bass fuzz that Dion Lunadon employs was enough to give those tracks the same visceral punch that marked “Feed Me With Your Kiss,” but the consistent basis with which the effect was applied, coupled with the focus that the trio had seemingly on rocking as hard as possible on near every track made for albums that felt monotonous on some level. The impact of such heavy moments was lessened, if only because they were present almost all the time. They lacked their predecessors’ sense of dynamics and for that reason, their albums suffered as full length statements.
All of this description early on might make it seem like Onwards To The Wall is some huge sonic shift that allows the band to truly shine, but that’s certainly not the case. This new release does function better as a cohesive work, but oddly enough they seem to have restricted their musical vocabulary even further. Across the whole 16 minutes they rarely let up for breath, composing more immediate tracks than they ever have before. They have always tried to hit you right in the gut, but on this release, perhaps because of its compact size, those punches really land here.
The title track is a particular stand out, building on the same kind of bass and drums motorik that marks the whole EP, but with female vocals and a willingness to show even some level of restraint in their recording process. If most of the EP is pushed firmly into the red “Onwards To The Wall” is sitting somewhere in the orange, and it’s a lovely change. Though the dynamic shift is slight, it sets up for the impact of the following track, “Nothing Will Surprise Me,” in a way that was entirely lacking on previous releases.
Though much here on this EP is still owed to their fuzz rock predecessors, A Place To Bury Strangers have finally compiled a work that is free from the monotony of their early efforts. Though that could certainly be due to the brevity of this record, it seems that they’ve finally, 9 years after forming, fully grown into their sound. It’s still nothing momentous to behold, but it’s an interesting and coherent appropriation of the tones of the Scene That Celebrates Itself.