Parts & Labor Mapmaker

[Jagjaguwar/Brah; 2007]

Styles: noisy, punky, rocky
Others: Husker Dü, Amps for Christ, Lightning Bolt, Minutemen

Mysteries, although always taking on a profound, inexplicable, or secretive quality, do not always have to come on a grand scale. Mysteries resist or defy explanation only when someone has not yet taken the effort to answer them. For example, if one has ever pondered the relatively small-fry quandary of what a new millennium Husker Dü would sound like, they would come up with the answer “Parts & Labor” rather quickly.

Many have come to this logical conclusion already, and that is no bad thing, of course. Brooklyn’s Parts & Labor have been toiling away and plotting their own map, or letting it draw itself, for the past few years, collaborating with Tyondai Braxton on the excellent Rise, Rise, Rise split full-length album in 2003 and releasing records of full-throttle noise punk while at the same time providing plenty of obtuse and extreme sound slashes that puncture their own wall of rock. Mapmaker is their latest stab, and it is one that will garner them more attention than they have been used to. Rightfully so too, as it is forceful listen, if not a tour de force.

For the uninitiated, the happily hirsute trio of Dan Friel, BJ Warshaw, and Christopher R. Weingarten revel in a cacophony of their own making, but always have one eye open to well-written, soaring-chorused pop songs. They may not hit you first as such, but they are there and they are a big part of the band’s appeal. For this reason, the Husker Dü comparison is logical and appropriate, as are all of the mentions of “anthemic choruses” that get thrown in every Parts & Labor review you will read (and I won’t even quibble about The Seattle Stranger somewhat ridiculously calling them, the “Phil Spectors of noise rock”). The band shows an obvious affection for and distaste of “conventional” tags. They are an ‘experimental’ or ‘noise’ group, but they are a rock band, a power trio -- and they are damned good at what they do.

Trumpet ‘n’ trombone-assisted opener “Fractured Skies” is a textbook example of what Parts & Labor are all about: rollicking drums feed this loudmouth monster until, here it is again, an awesome anthemic chorus takes over the song and whips it into a frenzy of controlled chaos. This same track description could be said for most of the songs on Mapmaker, but the band manages to make each and every one different and new despite the unmistakable touchstones of its sound. Even the Minutemen cover “King of the Hill” has that ‘same but different’ feel to it (except the parts that remind me of Judas Priest’s “Electric Eye”). It’s like the band attached someone else’s skillful finger to its already talented hand. Closing number “Knives and Pencils” is, surprisingly, given its location on the album, (Mapmaker}’s masterpiece. It is almost like the album works and builds itself up along the way to reach this high-water mark. It's a messy yet tuneful mélange, complete with bagpipe effect, a Celtic-infused tradition the band has embraced before.

Like “Knives and Pencils,” the whole album has horsepower and harmony and an itch you can’t scratch. It’s addictive without any effort to create mood. It plays and you have to respond and prove there is something actually better than pure joy, compressed into a few minutes of aggressive and melodic rock. The following may sound like I am giving Parts & Labor an unintended backhanded compliment, but in its relative ‘simplicity,’ Mapmaker works wonders and makes a lot of modern rock sound very lame by comparison.

As feelings of anti-rock grow and make way for bands who try with all of their might to be experimental or do something different, these very acts start to resemble the bands they aim to replace. It is heartwarming to hear something so tried, tested, and true, without the pretension and intention of replacing anything, but rather building or improving on the old. Mapmaker is punk rock for the 2000s, and while there should be no need to reinvent the musical wheel, it doesn’t mean we won’t gladly accept a minor pressure adjustment and a re-spoking of the damn thing from time to time.

1. Fractured Skies
2. Brighter Days
3. Vision of Repair
4. The Gold We’re Digging
5. New Crimes
6. Long Way Down
7. Ghosts Will Burn
8. Unexplosions
9. Camera Shy
10. King of the Hill
11. Fake Rain
12. Knives and Pencils

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