Party Dozen : The Real Work

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party dozen the real work review

Saxophone is neither a necessary element of noise rock, nor does it always make a natural fit within its claustrophobic and cacophonous spaces. But marvel at how often the piercing wheeze of a sax can turn a blunt instrument into a sharp and jagged one: From James Chance & The Contortions and The Stooges’ Fun House to the malevolent churn of Couch Slut’s Contempt. Guitars and bass alone can’t always achieve the level of antagonism a saxophone can, its high-end tonal frequencies capable of hitting that sweet spot of hideous and uncomfortable, the secret sauce that makes Flipper’s “Sex Bomb” feel so much sleazier, and the searing surface of hot metal that makes The Birthday Party’s “Big-Jesus-Trash-Can” actually sound like a proper bash-out in the junkyard.

Australian duo Party Dozen understand well the kind of auditory power a saxophone has—it’s their primary instrument. On third album The Real Work, saxophonist Kirsty Tickle and drummer/sampler Jonathan Boulet build imposing waves of ferocity driven chiefly by Tickle’s leads, the raw intensity of their music carrying the giddy unpredictability and sheer force of like-minded duo Lightning Bolt, but with an essential element of noir jazz to give their landmine raveups a necessary air of mystery and space. Party Dozen are more than capable of a total bombardment when it suits them, but the path they choose on The Real Work is never so limited.

When Tickle and Boulet rip, they rip. Few moments on The Real Work do so with as much lumbering menace as leadoff track “The Iron Boot,” a relentless pummeler that breaks from its doom metal intro into high-octane death race on a dime, an introduction that serves as a gleefully violent welcoming into their world of mayhem. Which never stops being this fun, only varying in its intensity. Nick Cave lends a chant to the catchy garage-stomp of “Macca the Mutt,” while the skronk-n-strut of “Fruits of Labour” nods to James Chance’s Danceteria no wave. On “The Worker,” Tickle’s delay effects give her playing the illusion of mimicking actual vocals, while squawking in a duel with an equally mangled-sounding synth bassline on “The Big Quit.” And while the band never quite reaches Peter Brotzmann-like levels of white-knuckle aggression, rare is the moment on this album that’s not at least blistering on the surface, few of them as consistently so as penultimate barnburner “Balance.”

The flipside of being able to play saxophone in the service of searing off your audience’s eyebrows is that it takes only a little restraint to revert back to its natural state of sounding cool as hell. Closer “Risky Behaviour” is Party Dozen’s most restrained track here, as well as the one that connects their music to styles outside of noise rock—jazz, dub, psychedelia, post-rock. It’s mysterious and melancholy, less a freakout than a slow fade into a hallucinatory haze—a perfect final reward for an adrenaline marathon of din and discord.

Label: Temporary Residence

Year: 2022

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