Record Review: Parts & Labor’s Constant Future

Parts & Labor: Constant FutureParts & Labor: Constant Future (Jagjaguwar, 3/8/11)

Parts & Labor: “Constant Future”

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In 20 years, we will wistfully misremember that all of indie rock sounded like a handful of reliable, definitive bands. It will be tempting to include Parts & Labor in that pleasant exercise of self-delusion. Then again, it wont make our memories any easier to process or simplify.

The electro-rock group’s co-founders, Dan Friel and BJ Warshaw, write lots of lyrical phrases that don’t express a simple opinion or definite image but are tempting to repeat like aphorisms. On the chorus of “A Thousand Roads,” one of the best songs and finest examples of what they’ve achieved on the new album Constant Future, they conjure up one of many fragmentary but astutely realized landscapes: “Come on, praise the progress made, the sharpened grays of a thousand roads / all delays, no lazy days, the latent phase of a thousand roads.”

It may be about touring-band life, or how America seems to measure its worth in paved surfaces. Because it’s not didactic or preachy, though, it can gradually sink in and play with your head, with the internal rhymes and alliterations indicating that there’s some coherent thought running through it that can’t wait to get out.

Parts & Labor’s music also sounds like it reads. Friel’s electronics crawl through the songs like power-line hum given life and dimension, but the hooks, punk-shout-along-worthy choruses, and Joe Wong‘s drums keep insisting that it’s going to make sense to your instincts.

If you cherish former drummer Christopher Weingarten going ape-shit all over “Vision Of Repair” on Mapmaker, or the mid-tempo lead-out that “Solemn Show World” gave the bigger, windier Receivers, you won’t have to really give up either for Constant Future opener “Fake Names.” The electronic layers of  Receivers sometimes weighs the songs down, and the band gracefully avoids that effect here. The keyboards and occasional bursts of happy static chatter build in concise, separate, neat threads, varying their collective mass enough that you never mistake it for just a drone. Again, a choppy splatter of words doesn’t encumber Friel and Warshaw from belting them out in a rousing chorus: “Bones will show right through the seams of last year’s new elective surgeries.”

If the overall flow of Constant Future is a little too steady at first listen, it’s partially because each song puts the same amount of emphasis on the same qualities. Each one keeps up about the same level of syllable-to-syllable wordplay and the same level of interplay between the keyboard hooks and the drums. Each individual track tries to say just enough, and then, in many instances, simply comes to a full stop at the end of a line. Even “Pure Annihilation,” which opens slowly with the twin heart-breakers “I know every inch of your shadow / I know all of the warmth in your wake,” ends up feeling just as wrapped up and confident as the punchy “Bright White” and “Echo Chamber.”

The album’s title points to excitement and anticipation, yet the title track has an air of being left behind. “Good luck, constant future, I think I will stay and rest / let the wagons pass me by, never look them in the eye / good luck, constant future, always heading west.” The phrase “constant future” plays out through the song as a devouring creature fueled by endless unfulfilled promises. Yet the tone of the song, if a little bitter, is never accusatory in a cheap or bratty way. For all the worn-out shit-scapes that it sees around itself, Parts & Labor attack with a hearty morale. Anyone just looking over the lyric sheet would expect an album that’s sour with abandonment and deceit. Instead, the songs turn that bleakness and pessimism into encouragement.

Really, “encouraging” is the best word for what Parts & Labor brings to music. Constant Future perfectly encapsulates the band’s sound and ethos, and it revisits many sides that listeners have already heard. Yet there’s no taking for granted the ever-stronger songwriting, the surplus of ideas, and the increased sense of clarity here. Even as it turns plastic-surgery patients into verbal chum on “Skin And Bones” (“what a hell it must be, laughing infinitely”), the band can’t help but sound optimistic and hungry.

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