A Smartly Enigmatic New Album From the Shapeshifting Parlor Walls
Parlor Walls – part of the Famous Swords art collective – call themselves trash jazz. It’s a modest handle for their ferociously kinetic, shapeshifting, noisy songs. Much as their sound is distinctly teens, their esthetic looks back to the no wave era of James Chance & the Contortions and Lydia Lunch’s various projects, if with a lot more focus and emphasis on melody and memorable hooks. In music-school terms, their songs are pretty much through-composed. Not only do verses and choruses tend not to repeat: the music just flows, or leaps and bounds, rather than following a distinct progression. Tempos and meters shift in a split-second.
Onstage they’re a lot of fun to watch. Drummer Chris Mulligan anchors the music with a mighty rumble and crash while playing organ, ambitiously, with his left hand. Frontwoman/guitarist Alyse Lamb spins and pounces and fires off shards of noise one second, then evilly lingering, noirish phrases the next. Alto saxophonist Kate Mohanty provides a calm yet similarly brooding presence with her resonant, minimalist lines and astringent, boxcutter tone. Parlor Walls also find a way to join a lot of really good lineups onstage. This Thursday, January 14 they’re at Aviv at 496 Morgan Ave. (Division/Beadel) in Williamsburg starting at 8 with the restlessly noisy, hypnotic, surprisingly groove-driven, bitingly lyrical Pill, then the more assaultive, noisier Guardian Alien, Parlor Walls at around 10, darkly psychedelic art-rock legend Martin Bisi and finally guitarist Arian Shafiee of dance-punks Guerilla Toss at the top of the bill. Cover is $10.
Parlor Walls’ latest album, Cut is up as a name-your-price download at Bandcamp. It opens with Bloodsport, a maze of guitar loops quickly giving way to a mashup of circling indie classical riffs and what sounds like wry faux urban corporate pop. The Key, clocking in at just a little over two minutes, sets haphazardly lingering guitar, warping organ and sax over a drum stampede.
Mulligan and Mohanty work a creepy/jaunty contrast for all it’s worth on Me Me My, Lamb adding a similar dichotomy with her menacing guitar flares and enigmatically playful vocals: “Push me out,” is the mantra. The build up to bell-like hypnotic ambience over Mulligan’s tersely dancing drums as the surprisingly dreampop-influenced Sundress reaches toward escape velocity is a lot of fun. Likewise, the final track, Birthday, which rings and clangs as it follows an unexpectedly warm, Afrobeat-tinged triplet groove before a tempo change, Lamb and Mohanty throwing off sparks over Mulligan’s pulsing syncopation. Get this album, crank it and revel in the fact that we live in such uneasy, interesting times.