For almost 20 years now, NYC’s A Place to Bury Strangers have carried the noise-rock torch that was relayed to them by the Jesus and Mary Chain and Joy Division – for better (2007 debut album A Place to Bury Strangers) and for worse (2015’s Transfixiation). Through it all, Oliver Ackerman – the band’s only consistent member – has never wavered in his undying dream of creating cavernous noise that’s fairy dusted with powdery pop elements. With this new EP, Hologram, Strangers push forward with Ackerman at the helm and two new-ish band members, Sandra and John Fedowitz – also of the band Ceremony East Coast – on drums and bass respectively.
John and Oliver go way back to pre-Strangers days, having worked together in the band Skywave in the early 2000s. Numerous lineup changes over the years have left the band’s music to be a bit chaotic and messy at times. Different impulses running through the band’s latter projects like 2018’s uneven Pinned have done little to reignite the excitement captured on their debut, but, while nothing has characteristically changed with Hologram, the band does sound to be back on the right path.
It’s noisy. Very noisy, which is a good thing. Hologram benefits from its brevity, but also from Ackerman’s respect for his audience. No one goes into a Strangers album expecting lullabies to put their kids asleep to, or the perfect teenage sleepover vibes. This is eardrum-penetrating noise rock that doesn’t veer far from the My Bloody Valentine template, but does incorporate the adjacent post-punk influences that have existed since their inception. Opener “End of the Night” is a clear example of Ackerman and the Fedowitz working in sync on one of the band’s stronger tracks in recent memory. The drums thump while the noise and distortion puncture one ear and go right through the skull to the other with ease.
The band’s lull started with 2012’s misunderstood Worship, an album that attempted to strip some of the noisier aspects back a tiny bit. This is resurrected on “Playing the Part”, the EP’s only truly conventional sounding moment, which sounds indebted to Women’s “Black Rice”, but Ackerman is astute enough to fill the void with sentimentality, “Life goes on / with or without us, don’t ya know / Let your dreams make your day.” This is how Hologram mostly avoids the repeated criticism of previous releases. All of the influences are still there and still hanging on every note, but at the very least the trio actually sound intentional on their aesthetically pleasing melodies.
Still, this is A Place to Bury Strangers, which means there’s excessive reverb and copious energy coursing through three of the five tracks here. Closer “I Need You” does hearken back to the Worship aesthetic, and it’s a woozy outro that would fit on any Strangers album up to this point. They’re still just about playing the game the same way, but with Hologram the trio sounds a bit more chipper than usual, which adds some flair that was noticeably absent for most of their 2010s output.