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Parts & Labor
Constant Future Michael Dix , March 9th, 2011 13:18

There aren't too many bands operating today as prolific as Brooklyn's Parts & Labor. Not yet a decade old, the group - led by BJ Warshaw and Dan Friel - are about to release their fifth full-length record, and have padded out that already impressive catalogue with a split LP (with Tyondai Braxton), two volumes of instrumental miniatures, and a solo album each. Even more remarkable than the frequency of their output, though, is the consistency. From 2003 debut Groundswell onwards, the duo (plus a revolving cast of collaborators) have pushed steadily forward, adding new layers to their distinctive sound with every release; vocals on Stay Afraid, horns on Mapmaker, new members and a more experimental, progressive approach to song-writing on Receivers.

Fifth album Constant Future breaks with tradition in typically perverse fashion, being the first time P&L have taken their feet off the gas. Not literally, of course; they still rip through these songs at breakneck pace, with Joe Wong's propulsive drumming pushing the BPMs well into the red. Figuratively, however, it's as if the group are taking a breather, standing back and reviewing what they have achieved thus far. Aside from the decision to employ a "name" producer (Dave Fridmann), there are no big new ideas to try out, no new instruments to crowbar into the mix; in fact, this record is a comparatively stripped-down affair, with Sarah Lipstate - the second guitarist on 2008's Receivers - absent to concentrate on her Noveller solo project.

Like some kind of sampler, Constant Future offers a pretty even spread of the band's different sides; most P&L numbers tend to fall into one of two categories - short, sharp pop-punk blasts and epic slow-burners - and this album has plenty of both. Songs like 'Outnumbered', 'Echo Chamber' and the title track are perfect examples of the former; earworm riffs rising out of Friel's mad scientist-like 8-bit experiments, colliding with Warshaw's thick, fuzzy bass-lines while Wong attacks his drums like he just found out they slept with his sister. 'Rest', meanwhile, may be the band's most fully-realised pop moment to date, a dreamy vocal melody floating over droning synths and throbbing bass that sound like a zero-gravity collaboration between the Ramones and the Flaming Lips.

The album's less frantic tracks are just as effective. 'A Thousand Roads' and the wistful 'Pure Annihilation' ease off the gas a little, with martial drumming and shimmering, circular keyboard riffs, while 'Without A Seed' is a master-class in restraint, consisting of little more than some rousing two-part harmonies and distant drum-rolls that tease a climax that never comes. The band know the importance of a good closer too: from relatively subdued beginnings, 'Neverchanger' slowly but surely builds to a roar that sounds like a plane taking off. Then blitzing a small city. Then exploding in mid-air.

Constant Future certainly benefits from Dave Fridmann's professional touch. The album sounds as colourful as the painting on its cover, and the more explosive moments - like the weird, pitch-shifted spooling effects on 'Bright White', or the bursts of abrasive noise that punctuate the Krautrock glide of 'Hurricane' - really leap from the speakers. But ultimately, the highlights are pure Parts & Labor; the knack for anthemic songwriting first demonstrated on Stay Afraid is keener than ever here and the album is bursting with killer hooks and uplifting, anthemic choruses. Their sound may no longer be as alien or as shocking as it once was, but it is one that is all their own, and five albums in it just keeps getting better.

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