After Brooklyn-based Parts & Labor unleashed the frenetic Mapmaker onto the world in 2007, it seemed like a stone cold cinch that stardom would come knocking. The band had already compiled an impressive arsenal of releases including two albums, a pair of EPs, and accrued a few compilation appearances, but Mapmaker was their most fully-realized project yet, an immersive cataclysm of unrelenting experimental rock. Still, aside from some well-earned critical acclaim here and there, the album didn’t cause the groundswell (which, by the way, is the name of the band’s first album) the group deserved.
A year and a half later Parts & Labor emerged again, this time yielding an eight-song album dubbed Receivers. Characteristically rough, radical, and a little bit weird, Receivers was also noticeably filtered through a much more accessible lens and given a tighter production sheen. Additionally, it immediately took over as the band’s most cohesive release yet, sacrificing a little bit of the group’s edge in favor of a composition that moved like butter — hardened, artery-clogging, post-apocalyptic butter — from one track to the next. It was then and still remains the band’s crowning achievement, a record so awesome that this time stardom had no choice but to rear it’s fickle head. But criminally, it seemingly hasn’t. Parts & Labor, in spite of their thoroughly muscle-bound catalog (and bad ass name), still seem like a band teetering on the brink.
So now we’re introduced to the band’s third release for Jagjaguwar, Constant Future, and instantly find that the Parts & Labor history book needs some amending. This album, for better or worse, instantaneously establishes itself as the group’s least challenging collection of songs yet. There’s still an abundance of blood-curdling, screeching guitars and thump-at-the-speed-of light percussion going on, while Dan Friel still delivers his vocals forcefully and nasally, sometimes as if yelped through a giant megaphone. The now-trio (the band’s line-up has been in consistent flux over the years) even uses many of the same effects — gritty feedback, bass that crawls like a serpent through the mix, and jolting laser beam electronics — as they have in the past. But if Receivers was blended in the mold of a more outwardly accessible, more singular record, then Constant Future feels designed with more easily digestible individual tracks in mind. As good as “Rest” and “Skin and Bones” might be, for example, they sound no better or worse lumped in with the whole than they do by themselves. All the cuts successfully co-mingle, it’s just that it would be a lot easier to pick and choose three or four songs from this album than it would be to do the same thing from Receivers without feeling guilty for not just taking the whole thing.
Constant Future is predominantly awesome, but its the lingering feeling that many of its parts are independent of one another that resign it to feeling like a step or two back. If Receivers weren’t so ridiculously good, it might even be more like a step sideways. Of course, it’s possible that that’s a good thing. If it takes a more formulaic approach to get people to dig back through their past discography, then hell, full speed ahead. Besides, it’s certainly strong enough to keep even us old diehards pleased. But for Parts & Labor to put out a record where plucking off just a few cuts — say, the title track, “A Thousand Roads,” “Hurricane,” “Echo Chamber,” and uber-climactic closer “Neverchanger” — and leaving the rest feels sufficient, well, that’s certainly not what could have been expected.
At this point it’s impossible to predict exactly what it’s going to take for Parts & Labor’s body of work to finally resonate the way it should. But notoriety works in mysterious ways: sometimes it isn’t a band’s most inventive or superb record that tips the scales, but rather one full of evenly shaped songs that don’t take much to really dig into. In that sense, maybe Constant Future is the record to finally thrust this deserving outfit over the edge. Even if it isn’t, it’s still another damn good addition to a wickedly unheralded, but highly effective, library.