Parts & Labor: Receivers

[22 October 2008]

By Matthew Fiander

PopMatters Associate Music Editor

Parts & Labor have always had a good thrust of muscle behind their sound. The electronic squalls and thundering drums, the curling shouts of Dan Friel and BJ Warshaw, the volume knobs always turned way, way up. The band refuses to make music that won’t leave your ears ringing. Their songs are pulled so tight they’ll leave knots in your shoulders.

And all that tense energy and irrepressible creativity is pumped into their new album, Receivers. But something is different. On previous efforts, like Stay Afraid and Mapmaker, the band sounded strong, but they always sounded held back and frustrated. The shrieking loops of electronics and the distortion-heavy production made their big sound feel like it was stuffed in a box way too small. It wasn’t a bad thing. The under-some-thumb compression on those records matched up with their songs full of battles against the big man, against the detachment of a consumer society, against the dangerous ways of a war-time world. They were a David taking on a regiment of Goliaths, and throwing brilliant fits of noise all the way.

But Mapmaker showed signs of them building strength, becoming larger, something more to be reckoned with that a feisty troublemaker. “The Gold We’re Digging” took the great sonic storms in songs like “A Great Divide” and threaded them through a more tempered palate. The intricate drums and production clarity made the band sound like they were climbing out of the foxhole some, ready to attack big opposition head-on.

And Receivers is their full-on attack. On first listen, it might not sound like an album that bears its teeth as much as Stay Afraid did. But after a while, the size of this album reveals itself to be something entirely new for the band.  Maybe its the addition of guitarist Sarah Lipstate. Maybe it’s new drummer David Wong’s ability to step into some big shoes and still manage to be the album’s stand-out performer. Or maybe the band has just gotten more comfortable in the studio. But there are no restraints on Receivers.  Parts & Labor sound as big as ever here, but their sound is far more expansive.  Rather than scuffling in the corner, the album takes up as much space as it can.  Songs like “Satellites” and “The Ceasing Now” take up over seven minutes, and make U2 sound small.

Both songs employ all the band’s strengths. But where before the guitars and electronics clamored over each other, fighting for a spot, the tension in these songs comes in how the different parts form a united front and build. The guitars are textured and set a little lower in the mix, letting Friel and Warshaw belt out their strange shouts over a more light touch of blips and squeals. “Satellites” follows a typical, though still bracing, trajectory, as it goes up and up into a frenzy of guitars and drums and shouts until it falls out and leads into the next track, the catchy driving rock of lead single “Nowhere’s Nigh”.

But “The Ceasing Now”—along with songs like “Mount Misery” and “Little Ones”—takes a different path. Parts & Labor have always used their knack for atmosphere to build their songs to the breaking point, to where they bust out into angry blasts of noise. But on these tracks, the band sustains the slow burn and lets it glow hot and unabated. Having found all this new space around them, they don’t waste an inch of it. They use bagpipes in the close of “Little Ones”, or a singing saw on “Mount Misery” instead of blowing our ears out with high-volume distortion. The feeling of these songs may not be as immediate as their louder predecessors, but their energy is far more permanent. It resonates from track to track, and sustains across the entire album.

All the way through to the closer “Solemn Show World”, with its march-steady drums and the cadence-like delivery in the vocals, the band sounds strong and confident and on the move. Parts & Labor aren’t David anymore. They have grown big and strong as Goliath and, with Receivers, sound ready to take on the world in a fair fight. “Sometimes I get the feeling that this really never was my home,” Friel sings to open the record, and then his band spends forty minutes tearing up the company flags that have been planted and starting over in a world more familiar to us, one that does feel more inviting, more like home.

It’s a beautiful noise when the little guy doesn’t sound so little anymore.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/parts-labor-receivers/