Parts & Labor
he name speaks volumes. Parts & Labor’s 2003 debut, Groundswell, was post-rock in the same sense in which the band live up to that name: it's the only band that came with a mileage guarantee, playing two-variable heavy-math. It was fairly intense, sure, and there was enough noise to make you tentative, and things fell apart, but the machine was sturdy—as sturdy as any—and barreled forward as it had to. What makes Stay Afraid such a shock and alarum isn't just its blistering intensity—the pressure's kept in the red even at its quietest—but that this band, still under manufacturer's warranty, have left the machine to the gremlins and crafted the loudest, rowdiest, sharpest rock record in some months out of its death rattle.
There's apparently a point to all this, something about One Nation Under Fear. Perhaps, if you've got the sort of ears that come with junkyard claws, you can pick out the precise words that tag-team screamers Dan Friel and BJ Warshaw use that justify the claim—the vocals are a completely new piece of artillery for them, and are still pretty experimental and generally buried in the mix or distorted past comprehension. Or, you can just forget the excavation and let the tone do all the talking: the tactical swerves and flanks, the wide-eyed blare and scree, those heraldic long phrases at the end of seemingly every vocal line. The structure speaks to something martial and disciplined and gray, but the sound speaks to chaos and breakdown, in full Technicolor glory. Guitars and basses and keyboards scream in unison joy-horror as the drummer bashbashbashes like he was beamed in from the earliest, rawest days of hardcore. That's really all they needed to tell you about the state of disunion.
Oh, but I've forgotten the bagpipes! Yes, that most godforsaken of instruments, the sound of flayed kittens inside Lucifer's very colon, was a featured piece of their last one, to the point of strict gimmickry (“rawk bagpipes!). Those have been jettisoned except for one brief, shining moment on lead-off “A Great Divide”; during the break one of them is left to croon by his lonesome (“stay where it's safe and warm insiiiiiiiiiiiide”) with the Pride of Scotland, with all its stray notes squeaking out of every seam in the bag, and for once it feels totally of a piece with everything else. They were jettisoned, natch, for being unnecessary, as now the guitars and keyboards are left to do the errant-skree dirty work, doing to melodies what a super collider does to atoms, smashing them all together and letting the bits of shrapnel fly. Given the rubbed-raw, overdriven production, it's surprising that there's even room for melody—and there isn't a silent moment here—but a sense of sticky sound underpins everything. “Divide” has a harrowing reveille-style vocal that shoots into orbit on a trail of just-missed notes, rising bravely above the bloody stomp around it. “Drastic Measures” has an enormous, pumped-fist-ready chorus redolent of Source Tags-era Trail of Dead, but louder and more vicious. “A Pleasant Stay” unfurls ribbons of noise around a column of primordial bass; “Timeline” has a twiddly Casio keyboard part that so many sad bedroom kitsch-hounds would give their lives for over clang-and-crash that would gladly oblige; so does “Springtime Hibernation”; etc., etc.
And then there's Christopher Weingarten, that fucking drummer, barreling through even the thickest walls put up in front of him. On the album closer “Changing Of the Guard”, there is croon (something about “hollow words serving villains”), and there are keys like church organs and then there's BOOMBOOMBOOMBOOM as our man Chris comes a-carpet-bombing, driving the whole head-spinning mess home. It's telling that the supposed come-down rocks so much harder than anything else I've heard in forever (and it does), but so does the rest of Stay Afraid, with more purpose and brio and vitriol and joy to boot. This is a call-to-arms, a primal scream, and a completely, unreservedly out-of-the-clear-blue triumph.
Reviewed by: Jeff Siegel
Reviewed on: 2006-04-11