While recording the album (which was released last week on Jagjaguwar Records) during the past year, Parts and Labor put out a call to its audience to submit audio samples of any kind that would then be incorporated into the music. Hundreds of samples showed up, and the band was able to use them all, working the snippets of sound into its combination of psychedelic rock, noise-punk and electronic music.
Dan Friel, keyboards player and vocalist, said recently that the experiment was "about being interactive with the people, because really, part of our intention in making music is to establish an engaging communication between ourselves and the listener."
Speaking via cell phone as Parts and Labor drove to Cleveland for the first gig of its current American tour, Friel said some of his favorite samples on Receivers included "one of this woman from a phone call yelling really loudly so her voice cracks, and that sounds awesome. Then, too, there was this guy who took a Furby and hacked into it, making some weird noises."
And Parts and Labor is taking its interactive experiment on the road. The group has set up a toll-free phone number (888-317-5596) to allow fans to call and leave audio messages of any kind that will subsequently be worked into the arrangements of its live sets.
Tucsonans can join the experience when Parts and Labor will perform Wednesday night, Nov. 5, at Solar Culture Gallery.
Parts and Labor was formed around 2002 by Friel and bassist-vocalist B.J. Warshaw. Both worked at the time for the in-house label of the legendary Knitting Factory, a New York City nightclub that is home to improvised, avant-garde and jazz music.
At first, the band was a trio, and worked its way through three drummers during the course of making its first three albums. After Chris Weingarten vacated the drummer's stool last year, Warshaw and Friel decided to revamp the group's approach, which leaned heavily on an abrasive noise-punk assault, so they brought in drummer Joe Wong and guitarist Sarah Lipstate. Friel had been splitting his time between guitar and keyboards, but with Lipstate aboard, he could focus his time on the keyboards and electronics, he said.
"With Joe and Sarah, we immediately started writing for that lineup, and the sounds we were getting with a more electronic setup allowed us to expand our sound. It was like we could progress beyond just imitating Sonic Youth and bands like that."
The new album has drawn comparisons to the minimalist art-rock of Wire, the ambient sound textures and faux-naïve pop of Brian Eno, and even the folky psychedelia of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd.
"I would say we are also highly influenced by a lot of krautrock at this point, especially the band Neu!" Friel said. "That effect wasn't really coming across on the last two records. Now I think we are making a conscious effort to make things sound a little more spaced out and experimental."
Combining those inspirations and a noisy mélange of donated samples makes for a record that's dense, but always steers clear of becoming claustrophobic. Where other music that uses samples and effects such as distortion and feedback might verge on the dark and ominous, Parts and Labor's music also possesses a lightness and the feeling of open space.
As friendly as it feels, that dense sound is ideal for delivering songs about surviving alienation and paranoia in an impersonal, oppressive and threatening post-industrial culture.
This is an album on which the first lyric (in the opening track, "Satellites," about Earth-orbiting surveillance technology) is: "Sometimes I get the feeling that this really never was my home." But there is hope amid the chaos, too, as expressed in the expansive "Wedding in a Wasteland." And there's no denying the headlong energy of the closing track, "Solemn Show World," in which an infectious dance beat seems to overcome the threat of apocalypse.
Each of the members of Parts and Labor has a thriving career away from the group.
Friel and Warshaw maintain the boutique label Cardboard Records, through which they release recordings by musical pals. Cardboard also issued the debut album by Warshaw's side project, Shooting Spires, last spring.
Friel's active solo career most recently yielded the album Ghost Town, while Lipstate's solo project is Noveller. She also is an aspiring moviemaker whose short films have been screened at South by Southwest the last two years. Wong also works in movies, composing soundtrack music for such films as Chris Smith's The Yes Men and last year's award-winning The Pool.
Friel said that although all the band members agree that Parts and Labor is their primary responsibility, it's healthy for them to pursue muses away from each other as well.
"It sort of allows us to do things that we couldn't do with Parts and Labor. We tried to lay low as we were coming up to this tour and with the new album coming out, you know, not playing much as Parts and Labor. But I, for one, get antsy, so I went and recorded that solo album. You gotta do something in the downtime."