June 20th, 2012 | Album reviews

A Place to Bury Strangers
Onwards to the Wall EP
Dead Oceans

There’s a lighter feel on this EP than on previous PBS albums, though some songs, particularly the perfectly named “Nothing Will Surprise Me,” are as hard as ever. That song actually has some hooky shit going on, especially the “na-na-na” guitar parts in the instrumental breaks, which have a swan-song fuzz-buzz tone that’s a little cocky, like it came out of Satan’s kazoo. The other four songs vary in their noise-to-hook ratio, but singer Oliver Ackerman always brings the sexy with his echoey vocals, which evoke New Wave more than No Wave. It’s a good gimmick to mix catchiness with sheer sonic terror and distortion, a gimmick that has been tried successfully and often by some of our favorite bands, but never like APTBS does it, though sometimes I wonder if they’d sound like Curve if they’re replace Ackerman with an upper alto female singer. And in fact they do bring on a female to duet with Ackerman on “Onwards to the Wall,” and though she’s no good at testing my Curve/shoegaze hypothesis, her counterpoint to Ackerman is fantastic, a ballet of erogenous doom, as if Winston and Julia from 1984 had been sexy spies wearing black turtlenecks under their overalls. Dogged fans of the band will probably balk at the more “professional” engineering on this thing, but like Sonic Youth’s transition to CD half a lifetime ago, the only way for this band to move forward is to open up every aspect of their sound, including the fidelity. And so far, so good.

-D. M. Collins