Last night I went to see a band that I’m madly in love with. Parts & Labor. I struggle with myself when writing about this band, trying to resist the temptation of comparing them with a small race of Supermen who’ve come to lead us out of the musical woods. Of course, in a live setting, Parts & Labor did little to dissuade me from such hyperbole. It would have been so much easier if they humanized themselves, not being able to replicate the sounds of their album or expound upon those themes. They also could have been terrible jerks, pretentious noise rockers with little time for fan boy record reviewers. But they weren’t. If I could marry a band… okay, maybe that’s taking it too far.
Mapmaker opens with what has been getting plenty of nominations for song of the year, "Fractured Skies". Christopher Weingarten's drums come charging through the gate while little robots made out of VCRs lie in their wake, letting out their death cries. Weingarten freaks out and plays even harder until the horns come in. Oh, those horns! Horns that bring to mind Steve McQueen, jumping over a fence on a motorcycle. It's a shame that Weingarten is leaving the band after their show at the 506. He completely makes this song.
"New Crimes" builds up some kind of Celtic drive reminiscent of last year's "The Great Divide" and it’s bagpipes. Singer Dan Friel told me that he was trying to get the guy that plays bagpipes with them in New York to go on tour with them. While "Ghosts Will Burn" is an impossibly danceable number with death metal bass trampling over the twisted debris of a wrecked 18-wheeler carrying nothing but Casio keyboards. Like a Decepticon dance party. My favorite song on this album, though is their cover of one of my favorite bands of all time, The Minutemen. "King Of The Hill" has been on repeat for me more than any song I've listened to for years. I've kind of gotten away from the whole teenage phenomena of listening to a song over and over again, and yet, this one does it. It's a fairly faithful cover, Parts & Labor's twisted, exploded keyboard sounds replacing the guitar and trumpet of the original, collapsing under it’s own momentum with the sound of disintegrating flutes. The idealism, wit, and instrumental acumen of The Minutemen are the perfect parallel of Parts & Labor, down to the proletariat band name and the egalitarian boutique label they run out of their van. Their cynical take on indie-fame, "Camera Shy" recalls The Minutemen, a mere 68 seconds before on the record. Blasting by in a minute-eight, replacing the customary punk sneer with a laugh at the ridiculous tropes of the world.
When I listen to Mapmaker, I think, how can anyone not be floored by this band? How are Parts & Labor not as big if not bigger than other indie heavyweights, like Arcade Fire or the New Pornographers? I think I stumbled upon the answer looking at the turnout at Local 506 that night, Parts & Labor are of a scene that’s never been the most popular on a wide range. When I mention noise rock, formless sounds, strung together with verbal diarrhetics come to mind. Such has been the devolution of noise since it hit it’s zenith with Daydream Nation. Parts & Labor sound recalls the bands that formed or survived the aftermath of hardcore, the beginning of noise. Husker Du, The Minutemen, and Sonic Youth are all easy touchstones in describing the sound of Parts & Labor. The nuts and bolts of their sound are what set them apart. Using toy synths and keyboards, they add modern noise affectations to the classic formula.