It makes perfect sense that notoriously cranky and outspoken music critic Christopher Weingarten once played drums for Brooklyn noise rockers Parts & Labor. He, prone to hyperbolic and obscenity-filled rants against crowdsourcing and feuds with bloggers, largely avoids subtlety, and likewise, Parts & Labor made a reputation through their first few records as an uncompromising, ecstatic and explosive rock band. They allowed scant few breathers on distortion-heavy albums like Stay Afraid and Mapmaker, opting instead for a non-stop assault of booming beats and volcanic guitar fuzz, treated with effects galore. That began to shift on 2008’s Receivers, however, as the band incorporated fan-supplied samples into each song, building from less conventional means and, in turn, offering up an album bigger on nuance and sonic exploration. As that record displayed, even a seemingly flawless premise could do well with a good shaking up now and then.
The band’s latest, Dave Fridmann-produced effort, Constant Future, finds Parts & Labor moving ever so slightly farther away from the uninterrupted stream of noise rock bombast that made their earlier records such head-spinning treats. It’s still noisy. It’s still intense. And it still rocks like hell. But more than ever, Parts & Labor is beginning to sound a lot more like a conventional rock band. The 12 songs on Constant Future make bigger leaps from build-up to climax, allowing just enough breathing room to let these melodies settle comfortably rather than pummel.
The twinkling, tom-heavy intro of “Fake Names” offers up early clues that there’s something a little bit different about Constant Future, slowly opening up into a powerfully giddy riff fest, mighty, heroic and drenched in overdrive. “Overdrive” revs up a bit faster, pulsing into a heavy vehicle for BJ Warshaw and Dan Friel’s soaring vocals. Yet the song feels more like a lengthy exercise in tension rather than the expected cathartic release. That said, it’s a satisfying and fluid piece of noise rock, a definite highlight here.
As the album progresses, the songs become even more hook-driven and radio-friendly, led by the glimmering anthem, “A Thousand Roads.” It’s atmospheric and pretty, but rises to the kind of meaty, fists-in-the-air chorus reserved for more outwardly earnest bands. Likewise, “Rest” has an understated swagger, chugging along a low-key bass groove only to rise into another grin-inducing chorus rich in hooks and good vibes. And there’s a classic, tuneful sensibility to “Pure Annihilation,” one that, if stripped of all its effects-heavy sonic baubles, would make a surprisingly good folk song.
Parts & Labor remain the most unlikely candidates to go acoustic or slow-core, but the maturation displayed on Constant Future is that of a band ready to shed some of their revered sonic annihilation techniques for the sake of giving more of the spotlight to their melodies. As much fun as it is to hear the band blast full-throttle through ten rocket-fueled punk rock projectiles, this side of the band is a comely one. Much like their heroes in Sonic Youth and Wire, Parts & Labor lend more evidence to the idea that you can mature admirably without sacrificing any of the energy or intensity of youth.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.