Constant Future continues in a similar vein to 2008′s Receivers, although this time around Parts & Labor are more direct in both sound and in the construction of their songs. This may have something to do with not having to shoehorn a bundle of fan-provided samples into the mix as they achieved with considerable success on that particular album.�David Fridmann’s production undoubtedly plays a part too. He allows the screaming keyboards and filthy guitars of Dan Friel and BJ Warshaw to push at the very limits, as they howl with incredible intensity throughout. The result is an album more focussed and expansive in tone than its predecessor.
Also playing his part is drummer Joe Wong, whose contribution to this album cannot be underestimated. When the band is in contemplative mode, such as on the folk-inflected fertility chant Without A Seed, he keeps the mood light. But it’s when he’s driving them along with thundering barrages that he’s at his best. On Outnumbered he’s a Krautrock Robo-Giant, on Echo Chamber he’s a tumultuous wave of metallic rolls. Whatever he does is never short of stunning.
Ultimately, it’s his switching between an almost automated style and tribal rolls that gives the band and this album the starting point for their focus. It highlights the album’s apparent preoccupation with the modern automated world, the natural world and the spiritual – all of which co-exist within the same time frame. A scan of the lyrics finds the band contemplating the “wonders” of cosmetic surgery with bones poking out of old wounds and permanent grins. They cast a cynical eye over the building of roads and mankind’s questionable progress; seemingly content to allow the wagons to pass them by. They don’t fear the future exactly because despite the passing of time, nothing ever really changes; there never really is a future, as summed up on Neverchanger “another century is over – another generation like the one before”.
There are times when the band seems content; it’s also when the band is at their most melodic. Pure Annihilation for example is essentially a reworking of the hymn Oil in My Lamp (a hymn utilised by both The Byrds and Eric Morris). Lyrically it’s vibrant and hopeful, whilst vocally it allows Friel and Warshaw to harmonise beautifully. Elsewhere, Hurricane takes Amazing Grace and fills it with a squall of muscular guitar and seething keyboards. Despite the lyrics suggesting “I used to be a hurricane, now I’m just a breeze” the music suggests otherwise, blowing a gale as the band offer up their praises.
Often categorised as a noise band, melody is often overlooked when it comes to Parts & Labor. While they can be terrifically frenetic, at heart they’re essentially an electro-rock band blessed with an ear for a keen pop melody. On this album, there’s a distinct folk lineage too which is often evident in the dual vocals of Friel and Warshaw. On the title track, their harmonising pushes up against the angry robotics of their keyboards and just about comes out on top. A Thousand Roads meanwhile has a distinct Celtic flavour to it – not unlike Big Country being eviscerated by a steam-roller – but again it’s the canny melody of the vocal line that pulls it into pop territory.
Constant Future represents Parts & Labor’s most consistent and exciting work to date. A complex album thematically and musically – but one with that is blessed with pop-immediacy and visceral thrills. What the future holds barely matters, when the present sounds this good.