Typecast as noisemongers since its explosive, self-titled full-length in 2007, New York’s A Place To Bury Strangers has spent the intervening years trying to find the perfect position of its volume knob. 2009’s Exploding Head folded more overt pop into its Jesus And Mary Chain fuzz and cool goth undertow; this year’s Onwards To The Wall EP was even sweeter and colder. Worship, the group’s third album, twiddles APTBS’ settings a bit, but it doesn’t do anything to remarkably alter the band’s dynamic of distortion, death-rock, and hollow-eyed distance.
Then again, there’s nothing faulty with that dynamic. “Alone” plays up the band’s alienating aura with bomb-bursts of atomized guitar and frontman Oliver Ackermann’s groaning introversion. It sounds more like Construction Time Again-era Depeche Mode run through a meat-grinder than APTBS’ typical mix of early-4AD-and-Creation-Records post-punk. Neither “Mind Control” nor “Revenge” lack in the onslaught department, either. Ironically, it’s when the band lurches toward the smooth and soothing that Worship feels more corrosive. “You Are The One” and “Fear” pulse along icily before erupting in sporadic fits of splintered riffage. And “Dissolved,” as its title implies, oozes in and out of solidity, a fog of shadowy croons and shoegazing angst that bears a resemblance to early Interpol.
What’s missing is the group’s original influx of urgency. Place listless, monotone vocals against waterfalls of frantic, shimmering noise, and the result is breathtaking; place the same vocals in a bath of tepid menace, as on Worship’s title track, and it barely commands attention. There’s nothing wrong with an abrasive band getting a little friendlier. After all, The Jesus And Mary Chain did it masterfully on Darklands. But there’s not enough conviction or charisma on the surface of Worship’s dulled sandpaper to break the skin, let alone get under it.