By Dan McQuade
By Brian McManus
By Hilary Hughes
By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
Only this past February did Parts & Labor, Brooklyn's DIY art-pop deconstructionist titans, celebrate their 10th anniversary by putting the kibosh on their econo, electronics-drenched anthemry. Their final spate of destruction was a blaze of droning glory onstage at 285 Kent. But P & L keyboard-sound-mashing architect Dan Friel can barely recollect the scene. "That whole day is basically a blur up until where we're doing the final drone, and it starts to sink in that it's the end of the set," Friel says. "We've made it through this 90-minute retrospective, brought up everyone who was ever in the band, and everybody starts tearing the stage apart."
Parts & Labor formed a pioneering trifecta with Oneida and Black Dice to help galvanize Williamsburg's DIY music scene in the early aughts. But as the band concocted their retirement plan, Friel was busy devising his own trajectory. Monumental changes were afoot for the perpetually touring synth splatterer: marriage, a nine-to-five gig, kid on the way, and, ultimately, moving out of his longtime Williamsburg 'hood to Greenwood Heights. "It's been a crazy year," Friel says. "I feel like I just pushed the big red button that says 'Adult' on it, and now I'm going to have a house and a kid."
Domestic bliss isn't staunching the songs, though: Friel has launched an inaugural post–Parts & Labor foray into solo-dom. He constructed the tunes that fill the monolithic electronic sludgefeast Total Folklore (due in February via Thrill Jockey nearly a year to the day after Parts & Labor's final show) not by barricading himself inside a shit-hole recording studio but by taking marathon walks through this city's majesty and bedlam, capturing field recordings on his phone, and, perhaps, creating a new music genre: electroni-commuter rock.
"The theme is very much about walking," Friel explains. "I like walking more than I like riding bikes. If I'm going to a show, I'll walk 45 minutes to get there. Walking around New York is a really weird, psychedelic experience. It's exciting and bizarre and soothing, but it also gives me ideas at the same time. But it's not a concept album. I just wanted to include sounds from the real world as a way to break it out of just being a purely electronic thing and to tie it together."
Bustling with a glut of ideas and stocked with those sound snippets encountered on his jaunts (a recent Con Ed–strike ruckus, kids playing hoops in a Brooklyn schoolyard), Friel alchemized Total Folklore via his archaic yet awesome home-recording setup. "I bought this computer right around the time I started recording solo stuff, which was in 2001," Friel says. "It runs an old version of Pro Tools that can only run in OS 9. I've recorded all of my solo stuff on there. It fits the aesthetic really well as far as using technology, getting to know it, and not trading up. The keyboard I've used is the keyboard I got when I was eight—the same one I always use. I like not making it about technology but making it just about what is available."
With Friel stabbing at his '84 Yamaha PortaSound, his Total Folklore is a homemade cataclysm, gloriously bursting with melodious synth clusters, ecstatic noise bludgeon, and sonic mayhem. Ostensibly, it's his New York record. Inevitably, it fits into the Parts & Labor pantheon. Friel offers a different take: "It's stuff that never would have made any sense with Parts & Labor. It has to be purely electronic to work."
For now, Friel is stoked to call Thrill Jockey home and gushes over the recently released Valedictorian/Exoskeleton EP where dub-pop-wavers Peaking Lights remixed one of his songs. He's also writing for a string quartet and even did a Beethoven remix with the Brooklyn Philharmonic. But it's not all feel-good for Friel; Total Folklore is somewhat bittersweet.
"The fact that I'm leaving Williamsburg after 12 years has, to some extent, made the process of making this [record] feel like a farewell to the neighborhood," Friel says. "I'm definitely going to miss walking to Death by Audio and Shea Stadium, my practice space in Bushwick, and these places that have defined my life in the past decade—not that I'm not excited to start this next phase. But the album is a farewell to Williamsburg and Bushwick and the stuff around here. I'll still be around it, but I won't be walking through it every day."
Dan Friel plays Thursday, December 13, at Ran Tea House (269 Kent Ave. Williamsburg, Brooklyn) with Indian Bastards From Hell (Das Racist), Free Blood, Hieroglyph Thesaurus, Fox/Crane/Bear, Diamond Terrifier, the Black Crown Ceremony, HIGGINS, and more.