The past few albums from Parts & Labor have seen a steady evolution of the band’s electronic noise rock. The trio began by playing wacked-out instrumentals: a combination of digital squeals and rollicking hardcore riffs. This approach eventually morphed into a more melodic, vocal-driven sound, as the band began to squeeze lyrics into its chaotic mix. And if 2003’s Stay Afraid used this method with modest success (melding together emotive shouting with a wall-to-wall carpetbombing of sound), Mapmaker does it with deft precision. The album continues the band’s success with experimental sound by providing a steady barrage of beautiful, yet jarring, noise rock anthems.
In person, Parts & Labor consists of a drummer, lots of facial hair, and a guitarist and bassist who utilize a wide array of pedals, keyboards and synthesizers. This unorthodox instrumentation can cede a sound that ranges anywhere from an innocent synth riff to the sound of an IMac being slowly strangled to death (I would imagine, anyway). On recording, the sound is a much larger, textured mix of melody, giving us a true sense of what the band is capable of. In addition to all the squealing electronics included on Mapmaker, there are layered guitars, distorted vocals and a bevy of horns.
Starting with emphatic drums and computer glitches, “Fractured Skies” slowly ascends into a chanting verse. The song peaks with a triumphant, horn-induced crescendo complete with trombones, shouts and crashing guitars. Emotional and inspirational, “Fractured Skies”‘s anthemic nature both achieves and surpasses everything the band tried to accomplish on their last album—and this is just the opener.
Deeply rooted in punk are the raucous “Vision of Repair”, the old-school flavor of “Camera Shy” and the Minutemen anti-war cover “King of the Hill”. But the prevailing category is noise. “Brighter Days” explodes with a traffic jam of sound. The screeching, wailing, and machine gun drumming that consumes the beginning of the song suddenly halts to reveal a simple keyboard riff and declarative lyrics. “New Crimes” starts with an innocuous guitar riff, but soon turns hectic as its slashing math rock guitars collide with the Chris Weingarten’s relentless drumming.
Perhaps as ominous as the band’s unyielding sound are their bleak, pseudo-existential lyrics. “I’ll swim in hell, and I will get to know it well,” Dan Freil sings on “Brighter Days”, a song that harkens back to past relationships. “New Crimes” paints the disturbing image of two perpetrators hanging from a single noose while waiting to be exonerated for their crimes. These dismal themes persist throughout the effort, as the lyrics suggest characters quietly submitting to their fate. “Why mourn a predetermined tragedy?”, Friel asks on “A Long Way Down”—this seems to be the overarching message of Mapmaker. We are living in a modern dystopia, let’s bask in it.
On Mapmaker, Parts & Labor create the perfect combination of traditional punk and boisterous noise rock. The songs manage to be inundated with sound while still supplying catchy hooks and infectious melodies. Parts & Labor has created a new benchmark for bands who want to incorporate electronics into their post-hardcore. So don’t be surprised when you hear countless indie bands attempting to emulate their innovative sound—and failing.