Since forming in 2002, Parts and Labor have existed primarily as an art-rock outfit, though you could argue that, on some level, they've always been a unifying punk band too. It's a line not often straddled, obviously, but in their case it works: Their last album's big sell was that it worked hundreds of fan-submitted samples into a landscape of 70s Eno ambiance and mutated synthesizers. Using an array of such out-of-the-box techniques, they've churned out four albums of brilliantly detailed pop combusting with every noise and texture under the sun. Meanwhile, there's Dan Friel's and BJ Warshaw's clunky singing voices, their swing-from-the-rafters rallying calls, and their ability to never let cultural commentating lyrics bog down their songs, all of which contributes to Parts and Labor's portrayal as a common denominator bro-rock band. They're just three dudes who would love to be the next Fugazi.
After years of experimentation, Constant Future sticks with what they've found works, and what works has them shifting towards this everyman proto-punk. That, for one, is Joe Wong on drums. After entertaining a rotating cast of drummers for years, Wong joined the band on their last album, and now we see him completely settled in. The fills are more rabid than ever before—and trust that P&L's drummers have always been insane—occupying in any space left vacant since guitarist Sarah Lipstate's departure from the band in 09. This results in a crucial shift in energy: Songs are not as abrasive as they are just straight-up pummeling. Take "Pure Annihilation" or "A Thousand Roads," for example. There is less shrilly 8-bit and zigzagging belligerence coming from Friel's keyboards than what we've grown accustomed to; all that severity is displaced by the shit-kicking percussion and reach-for-the-stars hooks that make P&L sound like Titus Andronicus covered by Fang Island. The songs are still severe, foreboding even, but not necessarily discordant. Parts and Labor will always dabble in the avant-garde, but Constant Future proves that it's not a bad thing to want to connect to the masses too.