Originally published on The Line Of Best Fit
Sometimes on records, if you listen closely, you can hear the musicians shuffle with an intake of breath. Sometimes you can imagine the bands glancing around the studio to see if their mates are ready. Sometimes you can sense the studio engineer sinking into their chair, slightly fearful of what’s coming, the tension mounting. One by one the band starts to jam, slightly out of time, to loosen their joints. Then, if you’re if you’re lucky, if you’re very lucky, you hear that microsecond when it calmly weaves into critical mass: in galactic terms it’s a white dwarf before nova, in music It’s Parts & Labor’s ‘Fake Names’.
The opener to Constant Future: the fifth album from Brooklyn’s Parts & Labor, deploys it’s pent up immediacy through relentless drums and throbbing bass, before giving way to a space age synth melody and understated vocals. It’s instantly noticeable that this is a return to the experimentation of previous albums, Mapmaker and Stay Afraid, after taking a guitar MOR holiday with fourth Album Receivers. Where as in the past they have teetered between Lightning Bolt and Holy Fuck, like a lost puppy undecided whether to go off with the rich couple down the road or stay with the poor, yet loving, family who found him by the canal, Constant Future sounds like the best of both worlds. Comfortably aligning themselves with Holy Fuck squawks, but with Lightening Bolt’s militancy, or the poor scamps move in to the big house if you will.
This comfort comes in part from Dave Fridmann’s production which frames their art-rock looseness with a poppier sound and confident song writing. The focus is shifted on to synthesisers rather than getting lost in reliance upon distortion which had been Parts & Labor’s raison-d’etre, and finally unearths frontman Dan Friel as a band leader. ‘A Thousand Roads’ in particular shows Parts & Labor growing as song writers with stomping sing along chorus which is somewhat reminiscent of Flaming Lips. Friel’s vocals are still shadowed in their trademark echo but there’s an added evangelising which must be a conscious attempt to appeal to a wider audience.
Constant Future continues the song crafting ethic with mid tempo songs such as ‘Pure Annihilation’ which introduces a melodic structure, and while Joe Wong’s drums are prominent, their focus is on rhythm rather than volume. ‘Skin and Bones’ similarly is less distorto-noise and more melodic drone and sees a rare appearance of a guitar. There’s no need for die-hard fans to be worried though, Parts & Labor haven’t turned down and sold out; ‘Outnumbered’ and ‘Bright White’ reassert their experimental-noise roots but it’s grown under Friedman’s tutelage to become more settled and grounded.
It’s difficult to imagine Constant Future gaining Parts & Labor many new fans, it’s too niche, too much for themselves. It’s a very good record but one which is hard to love. It’s one which they had to make after the folly of Receivers and has given them a fresh energy, but in a year of new Battles and Deerhoof records I can see Constant Future simply being a footnote.