Receivers is what die-hard fans refer to as the record too far. Abrasive, something-core noisemakers Parts & Labor began to flirt with melody on 2006’s Stay Afraid, and on 2007’s Mapmaker, they were messing with horn charts, letting second vocalist BJ Warshaw blurt out a few leads, and littering something like hooks in between all the jackhammers. The song title “Unexplosions” summed it up, deconstructing their steely model with strange tweaking that opened them up to all kinds of new vulnerability. And now they set that model kaput, with lineup changes (drummer Christopher R. Weingarten—yes, the Voice‘s—is gone, replaced by Joe Wong and a second guitarist, Sarah Lipstate); slower songs (only one under four minutes, while Mapmaker housed only three over); and no apparent interest in replacing Weingarten’s collapsing blare (Wong matches the new sound with a more Charlie Watts–inspired precision).
Unfortunately, the sound they’d harnessed on those last two records was one of indie’s more original juxtapositions in years, with frontman Dan Friel’s Interpol-ish vocal mannerisms abrading frenetic post-hardcore drumming, almost Warped-ready melodies, and, strangest of all, Friel’s sine-wave-and-feedback-generating effects rack. But because these four disparate elements grew exhausting to slog through even during their best work, something had to give. Here, Friel let the fans tinker with the machines, having called on sample submissions months ago with guidelines like “What do your parents sound like?” (The democratic approach can be read as an olive branch to skeptics who might not be ready for an environmentally conscious pop sing-along called “Nowheres Nigh.”) Receivers also features the steady-funking Kraut-rock chant “Solemn Show World,” as well as two seven-minute sagas: dirgelike “The Ceasing Now” and the echoing, anthemic “Satellites,” both of which are even farther afield from P&L’s previous output. For better or for worse, though, this is what Parts & Labor now sounds like, and even if an election year didn’t need a song called “Nowheres Nigh,” they’ll let you hum along—if they can record it.