Parts & Labor, the latest noise-punk band to come out of Brooklyn, have taken a huge step forward with their powerful sophomore LP, Mapmaker. Like most noise-rock, Mapmaker isn’t an easy album to get into on first listen. But give it a few more spins around, and you’ll start to hear something not just hard-hitting, but also rhythmic and encompassing.
The key thing Parts & Labor seemed to have mastered on this release, the thing that really sets it apart from last year’s over-distorted, over-speed Stay Afraid, is the art of the build and crash. Or, perhaps more accurately for this record, the crash and build. Again and again on Mapmaker, Parts & Labor deliver a noise-rock explosion, followed by a steady rebuilding, and then another explosion, like some cursed Iraqi rebuilding project. Married to this is a steady, driving beat, whether rapid-fire or slow and ominous, and over-sized, ‘voice of authority’ vocals that are seemingly out of the eighties, somewhere between Joy Division’s Ian Curtis and The B-52’s Fred Schneider.
Mapmaker begins with the driving opening jam of “Fractured Skies”, but then the expansive vocals kick in, and “Skies” shows great growth during the vocal parts, especially the big eruption in its middle. The record goes more noise-rock with the following “Brighter Days”, whose crashes aren’t quite as good as its stripped-down buildings. But then comes “Vision Of Repair”, truly the defining track for the album, and for Parts & Labor as a whole. Big, yet still growing, rapid-fire, but not just rapid-fire, “Vision” will rock anybody’s socks off (and shoes, and clothes, and probably a few layers of skin). It’s chorus of “We’ve got no choice / We’ve got to tear it down / To build it up! / Do you share / This vision of repair?” is pretty much Mapmaker – and Parts & Labor – in a nutshell.
The next tracks are good, but “The Gold We’re Digging” can’t quite match “Vision”, while “New Crimes” is a bit too fast & messy. And the slower, drum-based “Long Way Down” and “Ghosts Will Burn” are very effective, but a bit droning. However, in their ‘leftover landmine’ song, “Unexplosions”, those two threads are put together, with growing drums and distorted guitar making a great, great ‘exploding’ chorus. Later numbers like “King Of The Hill” and “Fake Rain” deliver that driving rock, and are rhythmic despite changes and speed, with huge vocals and choruses. And the whole thing ends with a six-minute-long noise-rock/horror jam, “Knives and Pencils”.
Compared to Stay Afraid, or their instrumental drone-rock jam on Rise, Rise, Rise (their split with Tyondai Braxton), Parts & Labor have made huge strides into marrying noise-rock with indie-rock, like prior ‘indie-to-noise’ New York acts like TV On the Radio (for whom Parts & Labor have opened) or Sonic Youth. But ‘just’ taken on its own, Mapmaker is equally, if not more, impressive. Like most noise-rock, it doesn’t immediately catch your ear, but once you’ve heard it a few more times through, you’ll share their vision of repair.