nderground rock needs more bands like Parts & Labor: Bands that can be counted on to produce consistent, mostly interchangeable jams every year or so, their sound just unique enough to support their relative stasis, songwriting just strong enough to justify the continued output, personalities just weak enough to bar true crossover success. The Brooklyn trio are only three albums in, but there’s reason to believe they can sustain the even trajectory those albums have suggested. Notable for their blend of esoteric noise/electronic elements into what is, essentially, straightforward big-chorus punk songwriting, Parts & Labor’s jig is almost Ramones-simple in theory, the execution somewhat more complex, and the end product something like Dan Deacon covering Hot Water Music: boiling, manic, tire-burning zeal.
Elements of Mapmaker—the horns that swell the trunk of “Fractured Skies,” the slow, ashy intro to “Ghosts Will Burn”—hint at frothier arrangements, but usually, the album’s simplicity and humility betrays its ingredients. The grandest part about Mapmaker is how easily it allows you to fall into “This band could be your life”-style mysticism. Little stages, big ideas.
Though it came out on Jagjaguwar and you’re listening to it on the downtown subway at 8:45 a.m. in business casual, you will re-imagine yourself: no longer the person who ends up at the same three or four indie-rock venues every time a national act rolls through town; no longer working a nine-to-six; frequenting co-ops and investing yourself deeply in tiny legends who you know will never “make it”—and fuck them if they do.
It’s a hard feeling to get away from, especially as Parts & Labor dive headlong into punk platitudes, buoying choruses with lines like “Lights will flicker / Ghosts will burn / As you’re waiting for your turn / Remember who you were.” They have a song titled “Visions of Repair,” and “The Gold We’re Digging” sounds like the first time you dragged Sugar’s Copper Blue out of the used bin. They cover a Minutemen song. Not one from Double Nickels. “Unexplosions” is a horrible song because I can. not. stop. pumping. my. fist. I want to get sweaty in their front row and I want to then wear their t-shirt to other concerts.
“Real” punk bands don’t use this many keyboards, but drummer Christopher Weingarten is a motherfucker, the type of guy who turns whatever slow-ass shit gutarist/keyboardist/vocalist Dan Friel brings to rehearsal into double-time feeding frenzies. He takes prisoners, but only so he can mock and torture them. Friel and B.J. Warshaw’s songwriting stinks of Bob Mould’s smooth-in-the-face-of-ugly melodicism, an idea no doubt strung along by the fact that both men’s indistinguishable voices share Mould’s bleating tenor.
It’s a perfect bait and switch: The band’s pokey electronics and Brooklyn mailing address appeals to the part of me that wonders, in all seriousness, “I wonder what the Kathy Diamond remix 12"s will sound like?” but ultimately grabs at the part of me that still owns a faded Planes Mistaken for Stars t-shirt. With a skull on it!
Mapmaker subtly betters 2005’s Stay Afraid in almost every way, such that it feels like a much better album, even though it’s not. Strangely, this is part of the appeal. The Constantines will save the world, Spoon will write the perfect rock song, Califone stirs up all of my favorite music-things, Excepter is possibly always on the verge of making the most important music ever. The most exciting thing about Parts & Labor is not that they will evolve and improve and eventually release the perfect marriage of noise/electronics and punk rock, but rather that in another year when I’ve forgotten all about them, they will release an album similar in quality and scope to Mapmaker and force me to re-think silly thoughts. And a year later, they’ll do it again.