Parts & Labor, Receivers
So, let’s say you’re a member of this noisy (yet majestic), ear-destroyingly loud, static-soaked, sorta conspiracy-minded noise-rock band. You put out two albums’ worth of anthemic noise bombast…and then what? Change is inevitable, obviously, but which way do you go? Do you surrender yourself to the noise, diving headlong into nearly unlistenable avant-garde noise muckery? Or do you embrace the melodies you’ve had drifting through your music all along like a subtle pop undercurrent and drag them to the surface?
With Receivers, NYC’s Parts & Labor have (thankfully) opted for the latter. The noise, the static, it’s still there, to be sure, but unlike past releases, it feels more like just another piece in the sonic toolbox. It’s the gorgeous, uplifting melodies that take center stage here, right up there alongside the fists-to-the-sky vocals of head P&L men Dan Friel and BJ Warshaw. The band’s always had an anthemic quality to its compositions, but with Receivers the band takes that to a whole new level, overloading the album with soaring, roaring calls to arms so that you can’t help but want to pump your fist and crow along.
Honestly, this scarcely feels like noise-rock anymore — what Receivers reminds me of more than anything else is space-rockers The Secret Machines. Both bands drive the music along with relentless, near-robotic drums, both bands craft music that sounds like it’d be perfect to launch into hyperspace to, and both bands cover their songs with layers of lush, planet-sized guitars. There’s a dreampop-y thing going on, too, especially on “Nowheres Nigh,” which is a bona fide shoegaze masterpiece, with an unrelenting, unwavering drumbeat that cranks along like a bullet train, droning/pretty guitars, and low-key, almost Sebadoh-esque vocals at the start. It’s pretty much the poster child for Receivers, and if you squint a bit it sounds like it could even be a Jesus & Mary Chain cover.
On “Satellites,” on the other hand, there’s a bit of a Beta Band feel to it, with the flat vocals and the busy, layered, quasi-electronic sound. The weirdest part, though, is the gospel and country moments that peek past the still-thick blanket of sound. “Little Ones” is, I shit you not, a full-on gospel track, like one of Jason Pierce’s most ecstatic space-dreams made real (if it were set to a merciless Grant Hart beat, that is), and “The Ceasing Now” comes close, too, with a spiritual, uplifting sound in spite of the strange noisiness it starts off with. Then there’s “Wedding In A Wasteland,” which has this oddly country-hoedown rhythm that beckons you to get up and start stomping the floor, Hee Haw style. I really can’t explain it, but trust me, it’s in there.
Spacerock, gospel, country, whatever the heck the band’s incorporating these days, though, it’s definitely shoved the more grating, abrasive elements of the Parts & Labor sound to the side. Hell, look at album closer “Solemn Show World” — it’s got an honest-to-God rawk riff in the break, and an oddly glam-y, Killers-ish one, at that.
The overall tone of the album’s shifted somewhat, matching the new musical direction. Where before Parts & Labor made jagged, noisy chunks of anthemic rock that came off sounding paranoiac, menacing, and foreboding with shards of sunlight leaking through, the vibe here is decidedly laidback, mellow, and friendly, at least musically. While the lyrics are still dystopian and dark quite a bit of time, the sweet, relative gentility of the band’s new sound belies the words. And the juxtaposition works amazingly well.
I should note, by the way, that I had some serious, serious misgivings about this disc, mostly based on the fact that drummer Christopher Weingarten apparently bowed out of the band for this release, relinquishing his kit to go be a writer full-time. I can’t fault him for the move (he’s a heck of a writer, actually), but on both Stay Afraid and Mapmaker, Weingarten’s frantic, neck-snapping drumming literally propelled the rest of the instrumentation forward, pell-mell, towards what always sounded like the music’s inevitable collapse. With him gone, I was afraid the new incarnation of P&L would feel weak and anemic, not the force of nature I’d heard/known and loved.
With Receivers in hand and headphones, I really needn’t have worried. New drummer Joseph Wong may not be as controlled-spastic a drummer as Weingarten, but he never misses a freakin’ beat, nailing the whole thing to the floor with cool precision. And if he and fellow new member Sarah Lipstate (guitarist and “noise artist,” according to the band’s PR) are truly responsible for the band’s shifting of gears, well, I’ve got to applaud them for pulling it off. On the outside, Parts & Labor may be a very different animal than it was, but the same heart’s still beating, fierce as ever.