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Destined: Parts & Labor

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Dusted's Sam Hunt profiles Brooklyn electro-rock outfit Parts & Labor.

Destined: Parts & Labor

On the third floor of an old multi-purpose, student center building at the University of Chicago, a WHPK concert is drawing to a close. The theater looks like a cross between an elementary school auditorium and an Elizabethan parlor, which provides an amusing contrast for the cavalcade of noise and generally abrasive/out acts who have played thus far (seven in all!). The bands are playing from the floor directly in front of the stage, where every thunk and squonk is captured and echoed off the spacious ceiling and walls of the sparsely filled room. The effect serves to remove most all definition (tonal and melodic) from every note played, and while this is not necessarily detrimental to most of the night’s entertainment, it has played havoc during the few instances in which bands attempted some sort of melodic/rhythmic coherence. The auditorium is looking to score a perfect record, having defeated all of the night’s bands thus far, but this all changes when Brooklyn’s Parts & Labor complete an efficient set-up and begin to play. Strummed and distorted bass chords, heavily processed high-register keyboards, and furiously pounded drums begin to erupt with thick, blasting tones that actually fill the room quite comfortably.

Parts & Labor keyboardist/electrician Dan Friel and bass player BJ Warshaw met in early 1999 while the two were working at New York’s Knitting Factory. The two played in “a few terrible misshapen noise bands for a couple years”, but it wasn’t until they met drummer Jim Sykes that they refined the sound of their full-length debut, Groundswell, which came out last year on NYC’s JMZ Records. Groundswell, the release of which seemed to occur in a trickle rather than a burst, is one of the most exciting instrumental rock albums (debut or otherwise) in years. It combines the mathematic irregularity and muffled clarity of the heyday of June of 44, but buries these crisp melodies under acres of overseas-inspired noise and electronic tinkering. Indeed, Japanese noisemakers like the Boredoms and the Ruins both come up as examples of artists enjoyed by all three members, and German Kraut legends Can and Faust are cited as huge influences on bass player BJ Warshaw. Groundswell is a soothing powerhouse of a record on which slow-motion punk rock bass lines intermingle seamlessly with childishly catchy and well-manipulated keyboard melodies.

The release of Groundswell came a few months after its recording, and by the time their tour began drummer Sykes had moved to Chicago and left the band. Their US tour featured the equally bombastic drumming of Joel Saladino, who joined the band in August of 2002. The first show the band ever played with Saladino came just three days after he joined, and the second was an outdoor show (set up in part by bassist Warshaw) featuring acts such as !!!, Les Savy Fav, and Lighting Bolt. This trial by fire was no problem for the spastic Saladino, whose drumming at their Chicago show was so loud that he seemed to rely largely on watching Friel and Warshaw’s hand movements.

Their new record, Rise Rise Rise (Narnack), is the first Parts & Labor recording to feature Saladino as the full-time drummer (he appeared on one track on Groundswell). The release, which is a split album with also impressive sound/tone manipulator Tyondai Braxton, is also the first to feature vocals. While it lacks the raw frenzied excitement of Groundswell, Rise Rise Rise is, in almost all other ways, a tremendous step forward for the young band. Concise, yet intricate tunes help songs to build more gradually, and with far more finesse, and (presumably) more elaborate recording techniques and equipment give their sound much greater definition and power.

The addition of vocals is not as jarring as is sometimes the case when previously instrumental bands attempt such a transition. The singing (handled by Warshaw on “Days in Thirds” and Friel on “The Endless Airshow”) is not pushy or excessive, and their addition makes you wonder where the vox had been all along. And it seems that there is a good reason for this, as Friel explains, “(adding vocals) is something that we were meaning to do for awhile and just hadn’t really gotten it together”. Warshaw notes that “one of the reasons that some of the older stuff doesn’t have vocals is that we didn’t have lyrics. We wanted to do at least one song about the war and the state of the US political situation”.

While they represent just a sliver of the renaissance of sorts that is going on in Brooklyn today, Parts & Labor are putting their educated ears and creative minds to excellent use to make a genuinely unique music. Their genre intermingling is subtly unobtrusive but at the same time excitingly apparent. And while their success so far has been considerable for a band of their age and relatively short history, they are definitely a band to keep a careful eye on.

For more information, videos, mp3s, and tour dates visit www.partsandlabor.net.

By Sam Hunt

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