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Music Reviews

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Parts & Labor

Rating: 9/10 ?

May 17, 2007
Three scruffy men preside over a small stage crammed with drums, guitar, a bass and two keyboards that look as if they were built with scrap parts from an electronic junkyard. Wires and cables are strewn everywhere, duct tape holding together the very essence of this get-up. As the music starts, listeners are overwhelmed by a squall of noise, tinged with terror, like an Alaskan fisherman facing a rogue wave. These music machinists are fittingly called Parts & Labor, and they construct surprisingly inspiring songs, wrenching out striking anthems from the guts of noise and punk.

Having witnessed Parts & Labor's sonic mayhem in a tiny Phoenix gallery + club, Modified Arts, when the troupe opened for fellow Jagjaguwar labelmates Wilderness, I can attest to the Frankenstinian nature of their technical setup. I knew nothing of the Brooklyn band in advance, but was swept away by their one-of-a-kind approach. Afterwards, the foam of my hard-working earplugs on the verge of disintegration, I picked up a copy of their 2006 release, Stay Afraid, and went on to rate it as record of the year. How is it that an album most critics didn't acknowledge at all came to be tagged with that top honor? Because few bands are breaking down the barriers of noise and melody with such crushing conviction, and that in itself is a feat of strength deserving of high acclaim. If the equally dramatic Liars are bridging the gap with the subtlety of primitive dissonance, Parts & Labor are simply conquering the divide by forcing the two elements together. In chemistry the results of this sort of experiment can be explosive, and so it is with music.

Like a bomb from Williamsburg, Parts & Labor have dropped their follow-up, Mapmaker, and it is a worthy successor to Stay Afraid in every way. If the former sat squarely on the wall-of-noise side, the new album gives the view from above: an expanse of rhythm, horns, backing female vocals and a wider spectrum of clamor. The release was produced by Brooklyn's The Brothers, who also turn knobs for Oxford Collapse and !!!. Parts & Labor started out in 2002 as an instrumental band, and with each successive release, vocals have become more prominent. It is clear that the band feels strongly about their lyrical message; as with Stay Afraid, the words of Mapmaker are printed clearly in the liner notes. Although singing is not necessarily this groups forté, their earnest approach is in the spirit of the great punk bands. Besides, who cares about tonal quality when there is this much of an exuberant racket?

"Fractured Skies" kicks things off with a barrage of drumming by kit-wizard Christopher Weingarten, who continually plays like the plane is going down. Dan Friel and BJ Warshaw soon join in, with their alternating vocals, keys, guitar and bass. The anthemic song forges ahead, adding trumpet and trombone(!), creating a glorious cacophony. "There are choices/ other than just fight or flight/ wrong or right" sums up the politico leanings of the band which, like its predecessor, thread through the album. The band is known for laying its protest communiqué out there, but for also walking the talk in the form of "organizing as many benefit shows as possible," according to Friel.

In "Long Way Down" one hears recurring Celtic musical motifs that creep their way into songs, as if bagpipes were blowing through the electronics. Again, the lyrics are admonishing, "In sight of the peak/ standing silently/ we wonder how long/ until the wells run down." "Ghosts Will Burn" has the trio slowing the pace down a bit, with its syncopated drum and bass lines, which continue nicely into the next track, "Unexplosions." This ability to mix up the dynamics makes Mapmaker a more diverse listen than Stay Afraid, which was bombardment from beginning to end. The record contains a great Minutemen cover, "King of the Hill," which leads into one of the strongest tracks, "Fake Rain," one of the only songs to favor guitar over keyboards. Closing missive "Knives and Pencils" is a slow march, with a battle hymn cry of "Someday the maps/ that you and I have made/ will all fade," before collapsing into a fading ending of feedback.

Parts & Labor claim a range of influences, from Sonic Youth and Boredoms to Husker Du and Neutral Milk Hotel. Echoes of these bands can be heard, for beneath the layers of heavy drumming and tattered keyboards lay the core: this band has an acute sense of melody and pop. The chaos is just a cover. Although one may think an album like this must be blared at full volume, it is just an engaging listen when played in the background. It's not a reach to say that Mapmaker is almost meditative, perhaps due to the very duality it captures. Motorcycle racers will attest that they feel a keen sense of calm, while leaned over at speeds well over 100 miles per hour, as the world whirrs by. It's an apt analogy for listening to these melodious noisemakers.

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

See other reviews by Ari Shapiro



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