Take the tensility of a post-punk band like the Au Pairs, throw in the percussive intrigue of Liars circa Drums Not Dead, add some blistering avant saxophone, top it off with some sing-songy spell casting, and you have Parlor Walls. The trio is many things, most of which is deserving of a certain kind of listener’s attention. Debut full-length Opposite makes good on the promises hinted at on the trio’s 2015 EP, Cut, its songs carrying a heightened relevance thanks to the current state of unease and disarray many of us have been enveloped in. If anxiety is something you actively avoid, Opposites may ultimately push the wrong buttons. For everyone else, keep reading.
Opposites wastes no time in putting virtually all of Parlor Walls’ assets on display, with opener “Crime Engine Failure” piling on Alyse Lamb’s taut riffs, Kate Mohanty’s fluid and pivotal saxophone, Chris Mulligan’s sinister drumming and a deceptively innocent delivery from Lamb. The band attacks this composition like a storm, the dissonant saxophone and guitar delivering thunderbolts of tense noise, until suddenly, at the 2:50 mark, skies clear and Lamb’s guitar lines turn melodic, intertwining perfectly with Mohanty’s sax licks. Precious moments such as this pop up throughout Opposites, assuring the listener that this isn’t simply noise for noise’s sake.
In her singing, Lamb is prone to favoring something close to Lydia Lunch’s disturbingly light delivery on her and Rowland S. Howard’s cover of “Some Velvet Morning”, and likewise a lot of darkness belies Lamb’s innocence. But there are twists. Her use of repetition can feel like an invocation, especially on “Play Opposites”, where she vacillates between rigid commands and fervent spell-casting. Closer “Red Shed” sees her vocals set to a PJ Harvey-esque smolder, while “Me Me My” creates the greatest unease of all, a simmer which threatens to boil over yet never, ever does.
Although it often feels more personal than political, Opposites carries with it a very timely sense of unrest. The album seems to burn down and rebuild itself throughout, sometimes even from song to song. “Love Again” begins steadily yet restless, but by the chorus, foundations are collapsing, with Lamb’s now empowering vocals roaring through the wreckage. There is a lot of smoke, but it’s a phoenix rising from the ashes all the same.
In the no wave documentary, Kill Yr Idols, Lydia Lunch dismisses the (then new) early 2000s wave of New York post-punk bands as only being concerned with “(having) their music used in the next car commercial”. As lovely as Lamb’s voice sometimes is, Parlor Walls feel too askew to ever be offered a placement deal by Nissan. They aren’t necessarily reviving no wave singlehandedly, but it’s unlikely that anyone could even conduct such a feat nowadays. Parlor Walls may have missed fertile earlier periods of New York avant rock, but Opposites is powerful enough to motivate an agitated faction during a crucial moment in history. For that, it stands above.