Parts & Labor - "Constant Future" (Constant Future)
Ever since BJ Warshaw and Dan Friel started singing songs, the reach for a wider audience that informs Constant Future’s outsized, accessible production has been an inevitable step in their future. Somewhere between their first album, Groundswell — which is composed of crackly electronic rock instrumentals — and their second, they found a nutso drummer and their voices. Stay Afraid set musings on post-millenial anxiety to soaring, fuzzed-out melodies and hurtling punk rhythms, warming the hearts of oldsters with its umbilical connection to prime Hüsker Dü and persuading youngsters who couldn’t care less about old punk bands with their open-throttled energy and 8-bit tones. It was a great but passing moment, like a perfect day you can’t hang onto.
Mapmaker felt like more of the same. They swapped the drummer for two new members and a bunch of internet-submitted samples made by their fans on Receivers, and made more sound like just a little less. It was time for the group to step up or question why they exist.
You couldn’t ask for a more honorable big move than Constant Future. The trio (guitarist Sara Lipstate is gone, drummer Joe Wong is still around) tapped engineer-mixer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Low, Mogwai) to blow ‘em up big without losing the grit, and he’s done the job without forgetting to include a few quiet changes of pace. Wong’s beats and Warshaw’s bass now sound as massive as a New Zealand boulder; Friel’s electric guitar and tiny keyboards fill the space between the speakers instead of scything through it. And they’ve brought the tunes, which are mostly carried by echo-bathed voices and unfurl over martial rhythms like national flags. Put your hand over your heart, then put your fist in the air.
Still, there’s something lacking — content that hits as hard as the music. Sure, you can hear that they’re awed and distressed about the state of things, but the emotion in Friel and Warshaw’s singing seems undercut by the lyrics. The singing sounds so important that lines like “nothing grows without a seed” feel a mite disappointing, and the voices are pushed so far forward that there’s no missing them. But that’s the risk you run when you get epic; close-ups can reveal your flaws. I don’t begrudge Warshaw and Friel their attempt to make music that’s accessibly wide-screen; I just hope that next time their writing keeps up with their tunes.