If you apply the ideas of Constant Future — about hollow innovation and not living in the moment –to music culture, Parts & Labor is exactly the kind of band that would get lost in the shuffle. As we constantly search for the next great thing, and our goldfish memories forget the thing we fell fleetingly in love with yesterday, consistency loses its value. Too bad, because Parts & Labor are as consistent a band as there has been for the last half decade. Not only that, but they’ve quietly risen to the height of their powers. The prickly squall of their earlier work — particularly 2006’s excellent Stay Afraid — yielded to an impressive cinematic size on 2008’s Receivers. And now, the band has meshed those two poles into another charging step forward in their sound.
Co-produced by Dave Fridmann, Constant Future has a surprising subtlety to its sheer noise. Dan Friel and BJ Warshaw trade tales of worry and wear, and clash warm keys against buzzing guitars all the way through. The best moments cut their taut bursts of noise with affecting space. The hushed verses of “Rest” still drive, but they hold back for the cascading chorus. “Hurricane,” a late-album standout, works a similar quiet-to-loud formula, but here the drum snap and clang, feedback groans, and you can feel that storm coming. But even when you know it’ll be here, the power they unleash in quick bursts is still jarring.
What’s clear now is that Parts & Labor are a band that don’t need to turn the volume all the way up at every turn, that don’t need to constantly grind behind the swell and squeal of feedback and loops because, over the past nine years, they’ve honed themselves into one of the tightest rock bands out there. The riffs are tense, the drums intricate yet propulsive, and the keys worm their way into any hole they find or (and perhaps more impressively) carve out the space the songs need. Even when the band slows it down some on “Pure Annihilation” or the stomping churn of the title track, they don’t lose any of their hot-blooded energy. The mix sometimes falters — see how too much echo washes out “Bright White” — but on the whole the band powers through these songs with a hard-earned purpose and confidence.
That purpose might be what keeps Parts & Labor from sounding preachy here. For all their societal complaints — see “Outnumbered” among others — these guys never put themselves above the fray. They are struggling to figure it out too, and there is an upward swing to their sound, a bursting out rather than a coiling in, so that this isn’t all kicking the dirt and whining. Constant Future is another fine rock record from a band that gets harder to ignore with each release, even when the album’s titular problem is exactly what keeps them flying under the radar.