Sounds of chaos

June 29, 2007

BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC

Since the genre's heyday as part of the indie scene in the '80s, noise rock has suffered from too much noise and too little rock, at least in terms of memorable tunes. In some ways, the Brooklyn trio Parts & Labor is a throwback to that earlier time. But the chaotic yet melodic songs on its recent album, "Mapmaker," also sound utterly timeless and completely of the moment.

"All of the bands I was in before were much more noise bands -- they were just about the sound," says keyboardist and guitarist Dan Friel. "But I reached the point where I was like, 'Well, what else can I throw into this mixture?' I didn't start listening to a lot of pop and indie-rock until I moved to New York [from Amherst, Mass.] about eight years ago; before that it was all free jazz and noise. Then I started working at the Knitting Factory, and everybody there was like, 'I can't listen to any more free jazz! I need some songs!'"

Friel linked up with bassist BJ Warshaw, a fellow employee at Manhattan's avant-garde rock club, and the two formed Parts & Labor, sharing the singing and songwriting duties.

"We pretty much split things 50-50," Friel says. "All the indie-punk stuff we grew up on almost always had a couple of songwriters, or at least two of them: Sonic Youth, Husker Du, Fugazi. And I think it's a good idea to have somebody to keep you in check, to ask, 'Is this too noisy? Is this too arena-rock? Does this wrap up all the things we want to do? Does it need to?' That's essentially what we do for each other."

The duo cycled through two drummers before the lineup solidified with the addition of Chris Weingarten. Parts & Labor released two earlier albums ("Groundswell" in 2003 and "Stay Afraid" in 2006) and one split LP (2003's "Rise, Rise, Rise" with Battles singer Tyondai Braxton) before making "Mapmaker," its best balance of noise and melody, chaos and song craft to date.

"I feel like the process of recording this one was similar to the last one, but at the same time, we did some things different," Friel says. "We did a lot more of the recording ourselves: B.J. built this sort of box in a loft space in Williamsburg, and after we did the basic tracks in a studio, we sort of holed up in our box for about a week to record all the noises and vocals and stuff.

"We spend a lot of time trying to get the sounds right before we ever start. Then we try to really bang out the recording as quickly as possible, walking the line between making it sound as good as possible and giving ourselves too much time to overcook it."

One of the most striking things about songs such as "Fractured Skies," "Vision of Repair" and "Knives and Pencils" is that the bass rarely sounds like a bass, the guitar rarely sounds like a guitar, and so on. But the most unique weapon in the group's arsenal is the first instrument Friel picked up as a kid.

"It's Yamaha Portasound-460, which is a toy keyboard from 1984. You can find them on eBay for like $10 to $40. I run it through all of my guitar pedals -- the distortion and the delay and all of that -- and for every song, it really gives me a completely different set of sounds, which I love."

Like many of the most captivating albums this year, "Mapmaker" was partly inspired by the war in Iraq and the continuing fallout of 9/11. But even without that ominous backdrop, there are plenty of things about living in New York that inspire a musician to turn to making the noisiest sounds he can imagine.

"I just sort of need to do this to keep myself sane," Friel says. "To me, the sort of anthemic and optimistic side of this band is the only way to get myself out of bed in the morning. When you live in New York, you need something, and I do feel lucky that I've found this thing I can obsess about and that keeps me interested and inspired."

 

PARTS & LABOR; THE BERMAN; REED-ROEBKE TRIO

 9:30 p.m. Tuesday
 Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western
 Tickets, $8
 (773) 276-3600

 

 

 

 

 

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