isn't about diamond shopping, oh no. This space will be used to review albums recommended to me by my dear friend Jared. Some of these albums may qualify, technically for the Underappreciated Music File, but I'll save that floor for stuff I dig up. So, without further ado...
Parts & Labor's 2007 album Mapmaker is something of an enigma. It toes the line between hardcore clattering speed and hook-laden pop. Drums are the heavy feature throughout, but there's also a healthy injection of electronic buzz, samples and looping. It's a lively album that the aforementioned Jared even stated should only be listened to after two cups of coffee. "No less," he continued. The heavy drumming and speeding lines fall in contrast to a lot of a solid, chanting and slow lyrical flourishes. It's kind of a chocolate-covered pretzel of music. Sweet and savory; equally cloying and enchanting. And while the album as a whole isn't perfect. It's a dynamic aural experience that requires attentive listening to dissect. There are layers of information coming at you in almost every track, allowing for hints of stadium rock anthem-esque charm amid the density of crashing cymbals.
The opener, "Fractured Skies" is powered by drums, but allows for a calm vocal refrain. And the second track, "Brighter Days," relies more heavily on the sung word, still running on drums and thrashing beats, but also allowing for an ornate, looping guitar riff that descends into grungy chaos between the verses and choruses. Really, there's a way in which Parts & Labor feels like Built to Spill on speed (and perhaps a bit of acid) because they are adept at composing catchy tracks, but are not content to let them ride only guitars and a backing beat. The beat here is one of the headliners. If you ever wanted to be a drummer in a band and your are neither Phil Collins nor Tommy Lee, Parts & Labor is the group to join for a healthy dose of attention. On "Vision of Repair," which is weaker than the two openers, the vocals accelerate, and the drums churn wildly like a fire built out of popping, damp wood. It's like boiling oil. It just keeps assaulting you. And the guitars are just for accent, a bit of a healthy electric wail, dressed in static.
For "The Gold We're Digging" we receive a transition. It's a march, with carefully paced lyrics and wailing, fuzzy guitars. And the drums seem to blend back a little more, but they are still essential. Again, this track is an anthem. It begs you to listen, even with the lyrics drowned in noise. But, that's the idea, with an experimental noise rock band, as they are labeled on Wikipedia. Parts & Labor try to maintain a bit of pop sensibility even as they're hitting you with chaotic, disparate sounds. "New Crimes" lives by a pop hook of a riff. And dives into a chaotic, mixed-signature drum beat, while "Long Way Down" may be the closest thing to a "radio-friendly single" on the album with its clear lyrics and machine-gun drum licks. All told, the album maintains its interest in experimentation, but never goes off the deep end. The album is welcoming enough, as long as you are a fan of drum talent. A hidden gem is a cover of the Minutemen's "King of the Hill" that Parts & Labor successfully makes their own. The original being a 1985 classic of the DIY punks, this version cranks up the speed and mixes the drums higher. The only loss comes from drowning vocals and guitar licks that are slightly subdued.
Pitchfork gave Mapmaker a 7.5 back in 2007. And I think that's a fair assessment. The album is not perfect, but it does a solid job combining beauty and chaos into something that requires multiple listens to fully appreciate. Were a couple of tracks near the album's end a little stronger, this would be an album deserving even greater respect, but as it stands noise-rock, glitchy-ness and healthy hooks keep Parts & Labor in a great place throughout. Take a chance on this one, and don't forget those two cups of coffee beforehand.
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