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Parts & Labor - Mapmaker

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Artist: Parts & Labor

Album: Mapmaker

Label: Brah

Review date: May. 23, 2007

The balance has shifted. Up until now, Parts & Labor has perched precariously on a fulcrum of noise and rock anthemry, shifting weight like a kid riding a seesaw, but remaining tipsily in the middle. With their fourth full-length, Mapmaker, the Brooklyn trio slides off the center, their knob-twiddling, volume-intensive, politically-charged song structure slamming down on the arena rock side, with a resounding thwack. The drums, played again by Christopher Weingarten, are less the chaotic blitz of Lightning Bolt this time, more the ritual pomp of the Constantines. The singing, split as before between Dan Friel and BJ Warshaw, is sweeter, louder in the mix, lyrics intelligible and, here's the scary word, accessible. The noise is still a factor, flaring in waves, exploding in the corners, but it is no longer allowed to romp all over the choruses. If you were thinking, "Sugar, not Hüsker Dü" with last year's Stay Afraid, Mapmaker will only confirm your hunch.

And yet, this is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, if you've been looking for huge rock hooks, outsized drum beats, hummable melodies – the kind of big radio rock that went out with human DJs – Mapmaker is your record. Opener "Fractured Skies" sets the tone, its pounding drums and electronic squawk-and-drone giving way to a big modal melody, and exploding with brass (yes, a trumpet and a trombone on a P&L record) at the end. "Brighter Days" is even more melodic in the chorus, more a dead ringer for Sugar, with only a brief explosion of synth and drums mid-cut to remind you of P&L's bomb-throwing past. "Visions of Repair,” maybe the best song on the album, is downright catchy, each verse culminating in the triumphant, "We've got to tear...it...down/Build it up again." This song -- like much of the album -- works on a very large canvas, building fist-pumping, heart-pounding climaxes into its choruses.

Lyrics on Mapmaker seem more personal and less political than the ones on Stay Afraid. Some of the songs are about success and the lack of it ("Camera Shy,” "Gold Digging"), another watching your friends grow up and sell out ("Brighter Days"), while a few comment obliquely on current events ("Knives and Pencils,” "Unexplosions" and, at a stretch, "Visions of Repair"). It's striking that the most overtly partisan song on Mapmaker is a cover, the Minutemen's "King of the Hill." P&L's version starts out stripped and bare, just a voice and squiggly keyboard, but flares massively at the caustic refrain. It's not as jazzy as the Minutemen version and it lacks the original's scorching guitar solo, but it's got the same sort of mocking lift to it.

You can draw all kinds of parallels between Project Mersh, where "King of the Hill" came from, and Mapmaker. After all, the late-era Minutemen project was decorated with a Boon painting that read, "I've got it! We'll have them write hit songs." It was a both a swipe at pop commercialism, and an attempt at it, containing the band's most accessible, melodic songs. It even had a trumpet player.

Before anyone launches into a Lloyd Bentsen-esque tirade about how Parts & Labor is not the Minutemen, think about the similarities. Both bands are fiercely noncommercial, politically engaged and intelligent. Both started in punk and moved to the center (though not really the center, but more their conception of it). Both are likely to fare better in history books than they do in the clubs. Mapmaker may not be Post Mersh, but it represents the same attempt to balance uncompromising politics with accessible melodies. The inclusion of "King of the Hill" makes you think that P&L didn't fall off the seesaw after all, but rather moved purposely to one end.

By Jennifer Kelly

Other Reviews of Parts & Labor


Stay Afraid


Constant Future

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