Try, if only for a moment, to envision a scenario in which you could still be completely surprised by a rock band. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s increasingly rare.
A couple of years ago, A Place to Bury Strangers were in search of a new drummer. Lia Simone Braswell, an L.A. native, had recently moved to New York, and was playing drums in shows around Brooklyn “just to keep her chops up.” As it turned out, APTBS bassist Dion Lunadon caught one of those shows and, after seeing her play, was moved to ask her if she’d want to come to a band practice sometime.
“I told some of my friends about it before I met up with them,” Braswell says, of the rehearsal that would soon lead to her joining the band. “They told me, ‘You’re just gonna have to keep up as much as you possibly can.’”
“To be fair, she had also never seen us live,” Lunadon adds. “She didn’t necessarily know what she was getting into.”
What she was getting into: For well over a decade now, A Place to Bury Strangers—Lunadon, founding guitarist/singer Oliver Ackermann, and, officially, Braswell—have become well known for their unwavering commitment to unpredictable, often bewildering live shows, and total, some might say dangerous volume. They don’t write setlists. They frequently write new songs mid-set. They deliberately provoke and sabotage sound people in a variety of cruel yet innovative ways. They can and will always surprise you. “When something goes wrong on-stage, a lot of bands will crumble under the pressure,” says Ackermann. “We like the idea of embracing the moment when things go wrong and turning it into the best thing about the show.”
This April marks the release of Pinned, their fifth full-length and an album that finds them converting difficult moments into some of their most urgent work to date. It’s their first since the 2016 election, and their first since the 2014 closing of Death By Audio, the beloved Brooklyn DIY space where Ackerman lived, worked, and created with complete freedom. “After DBA closed, I moved to an apartment in Clinton Hill,” he says. “I couldn’t make too much noise, couldn’t disturb my neighbours. I would just sit there and write with a drum machine. It had to be about writing a good song and not about being super, sonically loud.”
Plus support from Spectres
Hailing from Devon and based in Bristol, U.K., Spectres are a noise rock quartet combining elements of shoegaze, drone, indie rock, and, to some extent, post-punk. Made up of vocalist/guitarist Joe Hatt, guitarist Adrian Dutt, bassist Darren Frost, and drummer Andy Came, the group’s ascent to widespread critical acclaim both on record and on the stage began after they had started to dominate the U.K. gig circuit. The outfit’s first foray into the public eye was with the 2011 EP Family. The release cemented their penchant for harsh noise and uncomfortable swathes of distortion, enveloping somewhat straightforward, albeit dark, melancholy pop songs. It was this sound that began to earn the band comparisons to pioneering noise acts such as My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus & Mary Chain.
This led to Artrocker magazine crowning them “Unsigned Band of the Year,” a title that spurred on more activity for Spectres as they took up residence in a makeshift bedroom recording studio to record their next EP, the highly visceral Hunger, which was put out by the group’s own label, Howling Owl Records. Following this, the band went on scheduling more performances around the country, eventually deciding to relocate from Devon to Bristol. It proved to be a bold move, as the ensemble increased activities with Howling Owl, promoting the likes of Wilde, Towns, and the Naturals. A significant change came for the group when esteemed independent label Sonic Cathedral asked them to support Lorelle Meets the Obsolete on a nationwide tour, eventually landing Spectres a spot on the label roster.
Further success followed when they released their debut album, Dying, in 2015, an effort that gained further comparisons to acts such as Sonic Youth and A Place to Bury Strangers.
Spectres kept busy throughout 2015 with more gigs and followed up their debut with a collection of remixes entitled Dead, which boasted reworkings from the likes of Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite and Ride’s Andy Bell. They returned in early 2017 with their second record, Condition. Recorded by Dominic Mitchison and mastered by Frank Arkwright (Mogwai, 65daysofstatic) at Abbey Road, the album was a devastating assault of overloaded guitars, harsh textures, and sonic experimentalism.