A Place to Bury Strangers have proven their longevity, if not exactly their consistency. Since the trio’s self-titled debut punctured eardrums in 2007, Oliver Ackermann and co. have continued to play mopey, loud, intense music that splits the difference between post-punk and shoegaze. Unlike their first album, though, the band’s later outings were often loose and underwritten, clomping on long past their welcome. The founder of Death by Audio, a beloved line of custom guitar pedals plus a shuttered Williamsburg venue, Ackermann may seem more interested in special effects than songwriting. Yet on the brief, satisfying Hologram EP, the Brooklyn-based artist transcends his gearhead tendencies, gracefully navigating fuzz and feedback loops as well as melodies and hooks.
And in spite of its modest 22-minute length, Hologram never feels like an afterthought. The EP has a distinct shape, with the abrasiveness of the first two songs cooling into the tight melodies of the final three. “End of the Night” and “I Might Have” aren’t exactly unprecedented for A Place to Bury Strangers, though the production feels punchier, the songs structured beneath the layers of reverb and multi-tracked percussion. The influences are the same—a low-in-the-mix drum fill sounds like the opening seconds of “Only Shallow,” and a number of moments evoke the languid aggression of the Jesus and Mary Chain. But just when his 1990s shoegazing threatens to get old, Ackermann winkingly acknowledges his predecessors: “Hello 1994,” he drones on “I Might Have,” after wistfully describing a desire to “erase the years.”
In the past, A Place to Bury Strangers’ rotating cast of a rhythm section too often relied on thumping bass guitar eighth notes and busy, clamorous drums, creating an atmosphere of wallowing menace. The band’s new drummer Sandra Fedowitz and her husband, bassist John Fedowitz—the latter a key collaborator from Ackermann’s turn-of-the-millenium project Skywave—reach for uplift instead. Sandra’s terse beat on “Playing the Part” lets Ackermann’s riff shine, while the interplay between John’s swimming bassline and a gated snare enables the splintered sweetness of closer “I Need You.” His band’s timekeeping honed, Ackermann’s hooks can breathe: The EP moves deliberately from chaos to catharsis, with tighter performances than we’ve heard from A Place to Bury Strangers in a long time.
Hologram’s meticulous sound drives home how much finesse goes into making noisy music sound distinctive. When A Place to Bury Strangers first came on the scene, bloggers and critics dubbed them “the loudest band in New York,” a limited form of praise for their varied talents. Listen to their debut today, and you might not be shocked by its volume, though the jagged beauty of the record’s songcraft and production endures. Thoughtfully constructed and paced, Hologram could have a similarly long shelf life. A guitar pedal, after all, is like an airplane—anyone can get on board, but only those with a particular set of skills and technical savvy can make it fly. Because they treat every part of the writing and recording process with care, A Place to Bury Strangers lift us off the ground and into a cracked sky.