Though A Place to Bury Strangers called their second album Exploding Head, it's arguable that their debut, with its walls of low-rent distortion and abrasive beats, was more cranium-crushing. Even if the band's move to Mute resulted in cleaner, ever-so-slightly calmer surroundings for their music, A Place to Bury Strangers' sound and songwriting have more power and nuance here, as well as more structure -- nearly every song balances the black-on-black menace of their debut with pop appeal. Nowhere is this clearer than on "It Is Nothing," which opens the album with a three-minute burst of buzzsaw guitars, or on "Lost Feeling," which boasts a subtle tension and dive-bombing dynamics that wouldn't have been possible on the band's debut. This faithfulness to shoegaze's dark side sets A Place to Bury Strangers apart from many of their fellow revivalists who favor wispy, cotton-candy clouds of sound. Befitting their name, the band is still obsessed with death and destruction, be it physical or spiritual (as on the aptly fuzzed-out epic "Ego Death"). Interestingly, Exploding Head's more polished production brings out some of the more retro elements in the band's music, underscoring their fondness for goth, synth pop -- and in "Deadbeat"'s case, surf rock -- as well as their shoegaze foundations. They sound more like a pissed-off, guitar-enhanced New Order than ever on "In Your Heart," and close the album with "I Lived My Life to Stand in the Shadow of Your Heart," which offers heroic doses of pure effect pedal-stomping heaven. At times, listeners of a certain age will swear they heard one of these songs on college radio or saw one of the band's video on "120 Minutes" or "PostModern MTV" -- "Slipping Away" in particular has the feeling of a forgotten classic -- and that's a compliment. Exploding Head is a fine step forward for A Place to Bury Strangers, and shows they're among the best bands bringing shoegaze into the 21st century.