Parts & Labor were playing at full gallop one afternoon on a jury-rigged stage in Austin, Texas, when a small girl wandered through the crowd, covering her ears. Not critically, though, if her placid expression was any indication—she was just sensibly protecting herself.
You’d think you know what you’re getting with these guys, and it doesn’t exactly scream “kid-friendly.” Usually, a vocal-less first album, “electronics” as an instrument, and beard-heavy promo photos indicate an emphasis on something other than tunefulness. But look closer, and there’s a smile lurking in the beard, with an eyebrow cocked playfully above. And from the album itself emerges some catchy melodies.
“From the beginning, we were trying to mix really harsh sounds with really harmonic sounds,” says bassist-vocalist BJ Warshaw, who met electronicist-vocalist Dan Friel when both worked at the Knitting Factory. “After a year and a half of seeing bands” play free jazz every night, Friel adds, “I snapped. I wanted form!”
Certainly vocals, to say nothing of form, play a prominent role on P&L’s new album Stay Afraid. But they weren’t always so organized. The band began as Friel’s noisy solo project; its gradual evolution was “very disparate,” Warshaw recalls. “You can hear we were trying out different things.”
“Genuine experimenting,” Friel adds.
“We’re just restless people,” Warshaw concurs.
That restlessness pays off on Stay Afraid, P&L’s first album with new drummer (and occasional Voice contributor) Chris Weingarten. The band’s still-relentless experimentation here coheres into an almost pop sound, but still noise—just noise with a purpose. “We want to make music that’s somewhat uplifting to listen to,” Friel explains, and indeed, strip that noise away and you’ve got Christmas carols, folk, or even (as the band freely admits) U2, or really any lyrics that express dissatisfaction and music that evokes yearning for something better, rather than simply complaining.
Restlessly combining noise and pop, Parts and Labor emerge with the best of both worlds. As Weingarten puts it, “We’re the highest common denominator!”
Parts & Labor perform as part of the CitySol music series Sunday at 1 p.m. along with the Wowz, Tomorrow’s Friend, the Occasion, Japanther, and Aa, free, solar1.org/education/citysol.