Parts & Labor

Rise, Rise, Rise

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Ever since the Nirvana/Pearl Jam/grunge upheaval of the early '90s, the term "alternative rock" has, for the most part, been a figure of speech. Post-'80s rockers who are loosely defined as alternative -- a vast group that includes everyone from Creed to No Doubt to Korn to Ben Folds Five -- are quite mainstream. So they aren't really an alternative to the norm (certainly not in the way that the Germs or Teenage Jesus & the Jerks were an alternative to corporate rock back in the late '70s). But rock still has an underground in the 21st century -- experimental rockers who are oblivious to mainstream trends and aren't afraid to be defiantly left-of-center. Two such artists are heard on this split CD: guitarist Tyondai Braxton and the group Parts & Labor, both of whom are based in New York City and offer avant-garde rock that is bizarre, eccentric, sometimes noisy and usually intriguing. Both Braxton and Parts & Labor can be quite self-indulgent; being self-indulgent goes with the territory in avant rock just as it goes with the territory in avant-garde jazz and avant-garde classical. But self-indulgence isn't necessarily a bad thing if the artist has a sense of direction; free jazz icons like Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor, for example, have never had a problem being self-indulgent, but there's a method to their madness -- they realize that self-indulgent doesn't have to mean haphazard. And on this CD, Braxton and Parts & Labor seem to have a similar mentality. While Rise Rise Rise has more than its share of weirdness, the artists know what they're doing and are oddly musical in their own defiant way. Some of the tunes are more successful than others; Rise Rise Rise is a bit uneven, but overall, this release is a respectable demonstration of the East Coasters' avant rock talents.

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