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November 19, 2008
There must be extra water softener in the New York City reservoirs this year. To wit: vanguard Big Apple bands are releasing records that, when pitted against previous output, are downright warm and cuddly. A few months ago TV on the Radio released the superb Dear Science, which may be the red herring title of the year. That group built its rep making detached mathy rock groovy, then dropped a bombshell of beauty, a pithy personal statement that even contains the Ballad of the Year, "Family Tree." Retro recorders The Walkmen, known for angst-ridden pleas, gave up all the dread this year on the tender You and Me, nary a trademark yelp from Hamilton Leithauser to be heard. Following this curve of down and in comes the most surprising left turn of all: distorted noisemakers Parts and Labor's Receivers, an exultant album with no distortion and no noise.

In a prior incarnation, the band was brutally basic: knob twisting Dan Friel (Parts) and bass slapping BJ Warshaw (Labor), backed up by the hydraulic force drumming of one Christopher Weingarten. Last year Weingarten left the get-up to pursue his other passion, music journalism. Wisely, instead of trying to replace the dominating drummer with another force of nature, the band found precision piston-firing Joe Wong. Then, going against all grains, the trio added a fourth member to their garage, guitarist Sarah Lipstate, allowing Friel to focus totally on his patchwork electronics. In this year of democracy in action, the band placed an open call on their website for sounds; hundreds of samples were submitted, and each one was used to some degree on the record.

Photos by Tod Seelie


If Parts and Labor were previously a wrecking crew, their demolition was a process amusing to observe, the grinding sound of dismantling musical structures as noisy and sloppy as one would expect. Astute listeners of their previous Jagjaguwar albums, 2006's Stay Afraid and last year's equally excellent Mapmaker, could hear beautiful melodies in Parts and Labor's music, but they were always buried under the rubble. With Receivers, the band is focused and workmanlike, as if the chop-shop has turned into a tune-up joint: you can still smell the grease and spot the occasional lug-nut on the floor, but now the operation is more out in the open and more "what you see is what you get."

For veteran fans of the band Receivers will undoubtedly take some acclamation. Opener "Satellites" starts reassuringly enough, the familiar squall of Friel's 8-bit Clarion a distant echo from Mapmaker's ending. But if you're expecting the traditional P & L collapse into cacophony, forget about it. Instead the song quickly ascends into a tuneful anthem of clear vocals, parsed arrangements and smooth-as-metal harmonies. On the first run-through weeks ago I had to double-check that I had out on the correct album. From there on in, Receivers circles the wagons around the band's new treasure chest, tightening it's grip on warm melodies about post-industrial cultural divides. The paint job may be shiny, but it is at least as clear that the same old hulking engine is still under the hood.

Once the shock of new direction is muted, Receivers is as rewarding as anything Parts and Labor have done prior, and easily a 9+ on a scale of 10. If ever there was an audience out there that wanted to enjoy the band's bittersweet center but couldn't get beyond scaling the wall o' sound raucousness at its perimeter, this album should do the trick. It's refined, yes, but it still contains the ragged essence of their basic music mechanics. Bass lines are still torrential, keyboards still pierce the atmosphere, and Wong's cast-iron drumming, though different than Weingarten's, is still a thing to behold. Perhaps the new glue that's binding at all is the calming energy and composed fretwork of Lipstate. Whatever it be, the results are magnificent, and Receivers marks an excellent evolution of these post-art-post-punks.

SEE ALSO: www.partsandlabor.net
SEE ALSO: www.jagjaguwar.com

--
Ari Shapiro
A staff writer for LAS, Ari Shapiro mixes up pretty unique smoothies at XOOM in hot Tucson.

See other articles by Ari Shapiro.

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