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Parts & Labor - Groundswell

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Artist: Parts & Labor

Album: Groundswell

Label: JMZ

Review date: Sep. 3, 2003

The Beat Goes On


All-instrumental rock albums have never really fit into my music listening habits. If I'm listening to music at home I don't usually want to be assaulted by a relentless pulse. If I'm listening in the car or on my walkman I'll often put on a rock album, but then the personality and dramatic trajectory of the group are usually shaped largely by the vocals and lyrics, even when they're just used to frame long instrumental sections.

So what to say about instrumental rock albums like this one? I hit a wall where am I supposed to listen to this record? And I hate to ask this question, for reasons I'll list below, but it can't be avoided what am I supposed to do with it? Parts & Labor's music is often compared to Black Dice's Beaches and Canyons, but that parallel doesn't quite work for me because Beaches and Canyons isn't really a rock record sounds are usually free to smash into and smother each other without steady beats controlling their direction. And when Black Dice do use steady beats, they're present for dramatic or structural reasons, not as ends in themselves. Parts & Labor begin nearly every track with a pounding pulse that they ride all the way to the end.

For all that, though, Groundswell is actually similar to Beaches and Canyons in a couple of important ways: they're both heavily influenced by Krautrock (even though Parts & Labor emphasize Krautrock's repetitive rhythms, while Black Dice favor its never-ending and psychedelic qualities). Both bands are also very good at arranging and at crafting crisp textures.

In fact, Groundswell is one of the best-sounding rock records I've heard this year. It also rocks in a traditional sense, since the motorik rhythms are often played at punk-rock tempos and smothered with heaps of distortion. The guys in Parts & Labor clearly made exactly the album they wanted to make, and that probably makes my original question about its functionality ("What am I supposed to do with it?") irrelevant. Criticisms of works or art on functional grounds are usually unfair anyway because they don't meet the work on its own terms.

Still, Parts & Labor might be a great band in my eyes, rather than simply a very good one, if they would spread out a bit and save the endless one-TWO-three-FOURs for circumstances where they would have the most impact. In the middle of "Groundswell," the final track on the album, is an unexpected blast of free-meter drumming that temporarily obscures the song's direction and adds a bit of unpredictability to an album that's pretty predictable from measure to measure. A few more moments like this, and Parts & Labor's next record could be a stunner. Whatever they do, though, and whatever questions I might have about their current approach, Groundswell is still a hell of a good debut album.

By Charlie Wilmoth

Other Reviews of Parts & Labor

Stay Afraid

Mapmaker

Receivers

Constant Future

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Find out more about JMZ

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