All photos: Farrah Skeiky
Audio Source / Decibel Level
- Angels getting their wings / 0.02 dB
- The Gentle Crackle of Rustling Fall Leaves / 10 dB
- Careless whispers & sweet nothings / 20 dB
- A disgusting, quaint ukulele cover of a Train song / 40 dB
- “Normal” Conversation / 60 dB
- That guy in a music shop that can only play “Smells Like Teen Spirit” / 85 dB
- Orchestra / 98 dB
- Electric Light Orchestra 100 dB
- Assholes that rev their motorcycles at stoplights/ 105 dB
- ** Threshold of Pain reached**
- Front row of most concerts / 110dB
- Powersaws / 110 dB
- Sleigh Bells / 120 dB
- A Place To Bury Strangers / 130 dB
- Gunblast / 140 dB
- Perforation of Eardrums i.e. instantaneous, possibly permanent hearing damage / 160 dB
If standing 8 rows back at Sleigh Bells two Sundays ago left me rattled, then last Thursday’s A Place To Bury Strangers show at Rock and Roll Hotel went in for the kill. Some bands rock too hard for comfort.
Despite having attended hundreds of concerts at this point in my life, it’s taken these two sonic exclamation points to fill me with a fear of sound. About halfway through APTBS’s set, I realized that the stereocilia of my ear canals were probably twisting up in pain, withering and crackling off like dry twigs. “We lost a lot of good men out there,” my cochleae no doubt lamented. I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one who woke up the next morning still feeling like I had cotton stuffed in my ears.
However none of this is a surprise. Time and time again A Place To Bury Stranger’s reputation precedes them. “The loudest band in New York City,” is the superlative that ripples like hot gossip through each crowd they play.
Stepping onto a stage encircled by several projector machines, the Brooklyn trio’s first few notes were a clattering of unmelodic punches. Guitarist/singer Oliver Ackermann and basisst Dion Lunadon literally thwacked their instruments like they were pieces of vexing technology or uncooperative beasts. Not satisfied with physical violence, the three piece began heaping waves of gauzy noise that all seemed to undulate out of harmony until they all caught a snag and launched into “In Your Head” off of 2009’s Exploding Heads.
APTBS’s ancestry is obvious enough: My Bloody Valentine’s opaque walls of noise or Suicide’s serrated electro-punk, but there’s a direct lineage to the darkside of early 90s UK shoegaze acts like Curve or Pale Saints, with less tonal similarity than technical mirroring of Ride’s obsession with flange-pedal freakouts (i.e. Ackermann maxes out his flange pedal, then begins tremolo picking [rapid up-and-down motion] with one hand while his fretting hand slowly slides high up the guitar neck until its pitch reaches a tea kettle scream — a sign that the song’s wick is set to detonate into a windtunnel of chaos).
The second song “Alone,” is one of my favorites. Live, it (as with all of their set) is taken from a punchy three minutes of seething, guitar-driven rock, to a swollen, eight minute jag of titanic sound. Their set is not about spotting your favorite singles. It’s more about an experience of violent hypnosis. All round Ackermann and Lunadon, projectors shot off pointillist dots that looked like polychrome prisms spraying out like buckshot at their back, reducing the two men to either black silhouettes or vague forms lost in color and fog.
As for lyrics or hooks, they’re mere abstractions. Ackermann’s melodic offerings are like emotive smudges of gray, contributing more blunted gloom and funereal solemnity. There was no audience banter to note, except for a few ironic shouts from the crowd for APTBS to play louder. And they obliged. Lunadon lunged out into the crowd like a man gone wild and chugged at his bass like he was wielding a knife and would cut anyone that got close. At one point near the end of their set, Ackermann picked up a floor monitor — still plugged into the mix — and set it adrift into the crowd, where it crowdsurfed about fifteen feet into the center of the room, stretching the noise as far as possible, as if it was desperate to spill out and disturb the nighthawks of H Street.
APTBS’s supreme garbages of noise were unvaried and not dynamic from one track to the next. But don’t let me mislead you. I absolutely loved the set. The sense of being overwhelmed evoked a submissive sense of pleasure, of bearing witness to blood curdling, ear splitting rails of noise that became entrancing despite the intensity. Near the end of the set Ackermann and Lunadon picked up pieces of equipment — speakers, strobe lights, guitars, mics — and stacked them in center stage like a makeshift teepee until the only thing that guitar pickups could transmit were garbled screeches and steamy hisses. Then the trio abandoned the stage with no encore. I’m not sure we could have handled one anyways.
- In Your Heart
- Ego Death
- Nothing Will Surprise Me
- You are the one
- Leaving Tomorrow
- Drill It Up
- Lost Feeling
- I Lived My Life To Stand In The Shadow Of Your Heart
Preceding A Place To Bury Strangers was another Brooklyn band, Hunters, an quartet helmed by their animated lead singer Isabel Almeida. She was kinetic: roving around stage and, like Lunadon, busting out into the audience like a raging bull. She skittered so close to me that thought I was about to be sucked into a cartoon tornado, where I’d be chewed up and spit out, bruised and barrel rolling ungracefully into the fetal position. Almeida thrashed everywhere. No one was safe.
Musically, Hunters pumped out a lot of choppy punk numbers centered around verses and choruses in minor keys, composed of simple two-chord structures. They hit high tempos to match their fizzy energy, blistering out riffs at pace difficult to keep up with. If not for the two bands that sandwiched their set, they might’ve taken on the mantle of sounding moody, but since they had substantial vocal hooks (often anthematic, nonverbal Huh!‘s and Heh!‘s) and explosive movement on stage, they had an extroverted rock star appeal. After their EP Hand on Fire, co-produced by Smashing Pumpking guitarist James Iha, I could see this band taking on a Yeah Yeah Yeahs trajectory if they are ever interested in crafting out a bonafide pop rocker. In the meantime they do a great job of banging out dark, post-punk, with absorbing stage presence to boot.
DC three piece Black Clouds opened by foreshadowing the volume plateaus that would ensue during APTBS’s set. Black Clouds’ version of huge sound had an introspective bent. I’d call it “thinking man’s metal,” somewhere between the cinema of post-rock and the bone crunch of doom-/sludge-/drone- metal. You can check out their digital album Everything Is Not Going To Be Okay to listen for yourself.
Many of their songs have a dynamic of gentle moments destroyed by industrial strength metal workouts. Guitarist/keyboardist Justin Horenstein began songs by threading reverb and delay-laden guitar, or chiming a synth note sustained into infinity. But eventually those moments were clamped down and savaged by growling bass and pulverizing drums. Black Clouds seem to follow in the footsteps of metal acts like Isis or Pelican, bands with somber moods and tempos, occasionally bright or hopeful, but ultimately destroyed by aggressive metal phrasing.
Black Clouds also impressed with a few prog metal displays, all the while sustaining an atmosphere that glided in and out of those distorted, staccato moments. They were able to flux between those two styles fluidly until the set’s conclusion, a monologue tirade trailing off into the repeated promise that Everything Is Not Going To Be Okay. Pessimistic, but Black Clouds make cynicism worth listening to.
- more A Place to Bury Strangers photos:
- Black Clouds