Parts & Labor: Noise Control

parts_and_laborhz2520Sure, there’s nothing new under the sun. My Bloody Valentine defined squall as pop song 15 years ago. Link Wray poked holes in his amp with a pencil before he created “Rumble,” an instrumental that, nearly 50 years later, still causes catfights under full moons.

“All the most vital, arresting music has contained some bit of noise,” declares Parts & Labor drummer Christopher Weingarten. “So the idea of noise and melody intertwining doesn’t thrill me that much.”

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Scott Walker: Exit Music

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After surviving pop stardom in the ’60s, Scott Walker left the spotlight and began practicing the dark art of deconstructing songs. With his first album in 11 years, the cult hero demonstrates how to reappear completely. By J. Edward Keyes

When it comes to telling the Scott Walker story, it’s important to keep an eye on the facts. Because Walker is a legend, and legends by their very definition exist in opposition to the truth. Consequently, there’s been a tendency to exaggerate for effect, to overstate minor incidents and to add more and deeper layers of mystery to an already murky back story. Keeping all the plot points in their proper proportion requires a firm and unswerving dedication to reality.

It’s not going to be easy. Because this is a story in which a teen idol who once soundly trounced both Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney in U.K. heartthrob contests has a series of nervous breakdowns and disappears for decades at a time, re-emerging periodically to make albums, meet people in dark bars and do a bit of interior decorating. It’s a story in which records with songs about hookers, gigolos and gonorrhea-stricken soldiers breeze to the top of the pop charts. It’s a story in which a Wally becomes an Angela, lovestruck teenage girls storm secluded monasteries, and a defenseless donkey gets assaulted in the streets of a small Irish town. Without the proper measure of intellectual steadying, the whole thing could devolve into a prolonged sideshow of empty mythologizing.

Also, at some point near the middle, a world-renowned percussionist is going to beat the shit out of a side of pork. Just a heads-up.

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Black Angels: Laying Waste

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It’s March, and Austin’s native sons and daughters in the Black Angels are cranking out their sensimilla-laced brand of thunder and drone before a packed South By Southwest festival audience. Your screaming senses, however, try to warn you that you’re not in Texas anymore, but somewhere deep in the inky maw of Southeast Asia, being transported upriver into some unspecified heart of darkness.

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Juana Molina: Being There

juana_molina530b“I was apparently recording things without paying attention to what I was doing,” says Juana Molina about the creation of her fourth album, Son (Domino). Watching Molina speak is like taking in a one-woman show. She gestures broadly. She bursts into momentary song. She demands audience participation. (“How do you call … ?” is a common phrase for the Argentina native, who didn’t start speaking English until the late ’90s.)

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The Back Page: Gimme Fiction

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Get a good grip on your memory. If it doesn’t go back to the 1970s, you may want to read a book or two. See, Hollywood is coming for our icons next, and there isn’t a damn thing we can do about it.

The madness started a couple years ago, when Jamie Foxx won an Oscar for doing the same damn Ray Charles imitation—side-to-side with the head, face taking in the air—that everybody does. Ray set the template: early family traumas, love of music, a love story, some success, battles with drink and drugs, temptation that fucks up the earlier love story, pressure from The Man, redemption, decent soundtrack. Last year it was Johnny Cash and June Carter, essayed in Walk The Line by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. She got the Oscar this time.

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Belle And Sebastian: Lust For Life

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Stuart Murdoch went from idle daydreaming to pop idol—and it only took a decade. While Belle and Sebastian’s bedroom pop used to rule the school back in 1996, the formerly shy Scots have graduated to bigger stages and more exuberant sounds. By Mark Blackwell

It’s fast approaching 2 a.m. on the streets of Los Angeles, and they’re rolling up the sidewalks on cue to declare this drizzly Saturday night a wrap. The sold-out rock show at Koreatown’s historic Wiltern Theatre has long been over. The after-party in the basement has played out just as expected in a low-key, have-a-beer-and-a-quick-chat manner. Even the after-after-party at the bar next door has fizzled to an anticlimactic finish, the owners prematurely complying with local alcohol ordinances, banning access to all taps before the festivities had a chance to really begin. You’ve been put out onto the street and told it’s time to go home.

But you just happen to have an all-access pass, a shiny silver laminate that—combined with several brightly colored wristbands—will permit you to experience the elusive and exclusive after-after-after-party. And here you’ll finally come to grips with the unchecked decadence that can occur behind the scenes when a renegade septet of Scottish indie rockers, who’ve always done things the way they bloody well please, sets its 14 collective feet on American soil.

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Sound Check: Handshake Drugs

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Drugs, like sex, are inextricably bound to rock ’n’ roll. More than a mere marriage of convenience, the pairing has come to resemble the partnership between remora and shark: It’s hard to imagine rock developing into the shaggy-haired beast it’s become without the influence of chemical compounds. Undoubtedly, other substances have also played a role in shaping popular music. For example, country’s relationship with alcohol is well-documented (see: Hank Sr.’s “There’s A Tear In My Beer”). In the jazz era, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Miles Davis used narcotics. Dance artists have designed specific beats to match the effects of certain types of chemicals, while reggae has tended to view drugs as quasi-spiritual “journey enhancers.” The following albums represent the epitome of what Spacemen 3 once referred to as “taking drugs to make music to take drugs to.”

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Q&A With Stephin Merritt

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“I do a lot of conventional things,” says Stephin Merritt. “But I don’t do them conventionally.” The singer/composer is best known for the pop-leaning Magnetic Fields and Gothic Archies, both of which he’s currently writing for and recording. But his latest album, Showtunes (Nonesuch), compiles songs from his theatrical collaborations with Chinese opera director Chen Shi-Zheng.

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The Red Krayola: Outside The Lines

red-krayola_2006crAt a Houston shopping mall in 1966, a seemingly standard guitar/bass/drums trio appeared to be consciously using its lack of musicianship to traverse unknown boundaries of what might be termed psychedelia. Lelan Rogers, older brother of Kenny and owner of Texas record label International Artists, happened to hear the group that day. Rogers was later quoted as saying he signed the trio because he thought it was having a joke at the audience’s expense.

Looking down the business end of guitarist/vocalist Mayo Thompson’s 40-year career as the center of the Red Krayola—whose music has ventured into extreme psych, political operettas, Americana and outright noise—it’s clear the mall gig was no put-on. From Texas to New York to Europe and back again, the Krayola has spent its time on the margins of the margins. Perhaps the group’s refusal to repeat itself has guaranteed its obscurity.

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Rhett Miller Makes MAGNET A Mix Tape

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Rhett Miller is a believer. Putting his iPod on shuffle, the Old 97’s frontman entrusts it to make the perfect mix tape for MAGNET. Miller also has faith in The Believer (Verve Forecast), his second solo outing of smart, countrified pop. From his home in Hudson Valley, N.Y., Miller dances the iPod shuffle.

OPAL “Harriet Brown” (1989)
Opal is the guitarist (David Roback) who went on to form Mazzy Star. It was his earlier band, super-psychedelic and with a different vocalist. Instead of Hope Sandov
al, it was Kendra Smith. Now she lives up in Humboldt County on a farm. Dude, it’s this really beautiful, spacey stuff. I feel like Kendra never got her due.

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