Wilderness, Parts & Labor | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Wilderness, Parts & Labor 

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There are plenty of reasons to assume WILDERNESS is just another bunch of guys romancing the corpse of Ian Curtis: like Joy Division, they use loping bass lines, chiming guitar riffs, and mournful, plodding rhythms to create dreamy, minimal music. But they actually have more in common with the seminal postpunk band (and fellow Baltimoreans) Lungfish: long, unbroken songs that gently arc and stretch, guitar cadences that repeat like mantras, and peculiar, uninhibited singing. Wilderness's instrumentation may be well plotted, but James Johnson's voice is completely off the map. He empties his lungs like he's a foghorn calling to shore, flat and without melody, attacking each line with the same seesaw phrasing. There are points when he could pass for a senile old man doing a John Lydon imitation circa Second Edition. His voice is likely to be the deal breaker for most folks, but in a time when guys who can't sing tend to hide behind screamo scree or clipped disco pouting, it's gratifying to hear someone who's so unrepentant about making the most of what little he's got. --Jessica Hopper

Nowadays most punk bands writing anthems decrying the big bad powers that be sound so tired and threadbare they just make me feel like taking my teeth out and staying home in my rocking chair. Not PARTS & LABOR--"A Great Divide," the rave-up that kicks off their new Stay Afraid (Brah/Jagjaguwar), is the first stick-it-to-the-man song I've heard in years that's made me want to put my fist in the air instead. The Brooklyn-based trio updates the formula Husker Du perfected on New Day Rising--stuff your songs' whopping hooks and soaring, melancholy vocal melodies into a giant fuzzball of distortion and set the whole thing jumping with a drummer so adrenalized he sounds ready to blow the rest of the band off the stage. B.J. Warshaw and Dan Friel add layers of squiggly electronics and two-finger keyboard melodies to their shuddering bass and trebly, squealing guitar, cranking out saturated blocks of sound that shift and leap with thrilling precision despite their heft. Both sing with the desperation of men who'd hoped they were paranoid but finally discovered that the world really is out to get them--and what's worse, it's their own fault for letting their government make so many enemies in their name. If anything drummer Christopher Weingarten is even more impassioned, with a frantic, superathletic style that pushes every song over the top. --Bill Meyer

Wilderness headlines, Lichens plays second, and Parts & Labor opens. Sun 4/16, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8.


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