An Intriguing New Album from the Propulsively Enigmatic Parlor Walls

by delarue

Parlor Walls are one of those great bands who defy categorization. Are they postrock? Postpunk? Noiserock? Psychedelia? Free jazz?

All of the above. Guitarist/singer Alyse Lamb is a charismatic presence out in front of the trio, with as much of a flair for a catchy hook as sonic mayhem. She never plays anything remotely the same way twice. Drummer Chris Mulligan is a beast, playing thick, churning rivers of organ or fuzzy synth lines with his left hand while keeping time with the right and the kickdrum. Alto saxophonist Kate Mohanty adds her signature acidity, acerbity and occasional extended-technique squall, just as she did on the band’s previous record. They’re playing the album release show for their new one, Opposites – streaming at Bandcamp, and available on vinyl – on March 9 at 10 PM at Sunnyvale. Cover is $10.

None of the songs follow any predictable verse/chorus pattern: the group squeezes a lot into short, impactful packages. Mulligan drives the opening track, Crime Engine Failure with something of an altered qawwali groove, Lamb’s catchy vocal hooks against lingering, minimalist swaths of guitar and sax that intertwine as the song goes on. “Cover me…and all that lies in front of me,” Lamb intones amid the stormy cloudbanks of the second track. “You won’t let me bleed when you’re gone.”

The spare/densely roaring dichotomy of Play Opposites brings to mind peak-era Sonic Youth. “Open up your eyes…burn it to the ground…not going there,” Lamb half-sings, half-insists: allusion and unease define this band. Ambassadress juxtaposes Mulligan’s calm organ with stun-guitar blasts from Lamb, up to a tasty, sirening outro.

Love Again has a stomping martial beat, a less inchoate mashup of early Gang of Four and Goo-era SY fueled by Lamb’s swoops and dives. In Teach Me Where to Roam, the band vamps hypnotically as Mohanty hovers ominously over Mulligan’s four-on-the-floor thump, up to yet another simple, catchy, crescendoing chorus and then back.

As the band shifts back and forth from a heavy, syncopated beat, Hesitation alludes to resistance against repression, or at least conformity, arranged around Lamb’s recurrent seven-note slide riff. Shorts bursts from Mohanty pepper the whirling lows of Me Me My, an update on a familiar X-Ray Spex trope; Lamb’s long outro is pretty amusing.

The album’s longest track, Birthday, is an audience favorite,  Albert Ayler-ish sax busting out over a hypnotically circling backdrop. “Don’t you know I’m perfect?” Lamb asks, completely deadpan. The album winds up with the twinkling improvisation Carstairs and then the darkest, most epically anthemic track here, Red Shed. Another winner from one of Brooklyn’s most consistently unpredictable and interesting bands. 

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