The gorgeous new building had been sitting there empty for the better part of a year when Party Dozen came by and wrecked it. Philanthropist Judith Neilson’s gallery Phoenix Central Park — an architectural marvel in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Chippendale, billed as “an artistic locus for colliding the boundaries between sight, sound, and embodiment” — was only open long enough to host one event before the pandemic forced it to close. Eventually, management decided that, rather than let the space sit idle, they’d film a series of performances by local artists from many disciplines. Among those invited were Party Dozen, the noise-rock duo of Kirsty Tickle (saxophone) and Jonathan Boulet (percussion/sampler).
When Party Dozen showed up at Phoenix Central Park in January of 2021, they unleashed a lot of pent-up frustration. The band had released their second album, Pray For Party Dozen, in May of 2020 but had been unable to tour it due to the pandemic. Pray For Party Dozen is a brutal, incendiary record, filled with the kind of chaotic rock music that demands to be played live. But instead of bashing out one of those songs, the duo performed a cataclysmic new one called “The Worker.” Tickle’s sax blared like a tornado siren, Boulet’s drums played the part of the whirlwind, and their respective parts swirled together with a backing track built on violently jolting bass that wouldn’t sound out of place in Gang Of Four or Primal Scream. The end result was so effective that Party Dozen released the live recording as a single.
That reading of the “The Worker” remains untouched on Party Dozen’s new album The Real Work. It ended up serving as a thematic jumping-off point for the rest of the music — the band thinks of their instruments are tools, they view work not as a toil but an opportunity for gain, etc. — though themes are unlikely to jump out at you on a record where the human voice is deployed sparingly, in service of mostly gibberish screamed through the bell of an effects-laden saxophone. What will leap from the speakers is the explosive aggression of opening track “The Iron Boot,” like sludge metal deconstructed and pasted back together with “Gimme Shelter”-style bluster. Party Dozen’s credits don’t specify which instruments end up in the mix, but there are many times when Tickle’s sax sounds like a harmonica pushed to extremes in some galactically heavy roadhouse rock band. The joy of creation is palpable, even when the music resembles a war zone.
That vibe has been the norm so far for Party Dozen — a surprising turn for two musicians whose own solo work is much softer and sweeter. Tickle’s old band Little Scout struck a similar balance of the whimsical, jittery, and grand, and her more recent solo releases as Exhibitionist are artsy indie pop-R&B. Boulet’s two albums on Modular under his own name put a poppy spin on the indie era typified by Dodos, Dirty Projectors, and Animal Collective. By the time he self-released the third one in 2014, his music was sounding increasingly unhinged, though not nearly as abrasive as it would get upon teaming with Tickle in 2017 and making the most exciting music of their respective careers. There’s a reason labels as esteemed as Temporary Residence and Sub Pop (who released Party Dozen’s recent single “Fat Hans Gone Mad”) have come calling.
Like the band’s two prior albums, The Real Work is at its best when Tickle and Boulet kick up a wild racket, jamming their way to combustible loops and then wilding out over top of them. Sometimes it takes the form of abrasive noise-punk a la Lightning Bolt or Death From Above 1979, the sort of music where the bass seems to be punching you in the mouth. Other times, when raw and untamed guitar chords come to the fore, it feels more like Jack White at his most elemental or any number of riot-inciting blues-punk acts. (“Major Beef” in particular reminds me of the former Mr. Meg.) Elsewhere there are traces of Ennio Morricone’s windswept Western scores and of the extended Bad Seeds universe — they’ve cited Grinderman and the Dirty Three in particular — so it makes sense that living legend Nick Cave shows up on “Macca The Mutt” to howl the album’s only discernible lyrics: “I’ve got a mutt called Macca!” (After so many songs written about dogs, it’s about time someone named their pet after Paul McCartney.)
Not everything on The Real Work is so cacophonous. “Fruits Of Labour” combines elements of surf-rock and post-punk into a crisp rhythm that only lets dissonant outbursts in at the seams. Closer “Risky Behavior” piles cinematic synth sounds and the mournful wailing of Tickle’s instrument on a loose, swinging groove. “The Big Quit” creates lots of sonic space around a main riff that plays like a downed electrical line flopping in the wind. “Earthly Times” has the tint of a jazzy, smoky hip-hop instrumental. Although they diversify the band’s palette and give listeners a reprieve from the louder moments, even these more restrained tracks tend to erupt from time to time, and there’s usually a crackling tension beneath their composed veneers. It’s as if this partnership dredges up some kind of elemental power that can only be contained for so long. After being hemmed in by forces outside the band’s control last album cycle, Party Dozen sound all the more ready to explode.
The Real Work is out 7/8 on Temporary Residence.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Brent Faiyaz’s Wasteland
• Metric’s Formentera
• Viagra Boys’ Cave World
• Laura Veirs’ Found Light
• Pavement co-founder Spiral Stairs’ Medley Attack!!!
• Delicate Steve’s After Hours
• Try The Pie’s A Widening Burst of Forever
• Quinton Brock’s My Shadow
• Wu-Lu’s LOGGERHEAD
• Journey’s Freedom
• James Bay’s Leap
• Mush’s Down Tools
• Wormrot’s Hiss
• Maxim Mental’s Make Team Presents Maxim Mental In Maximalism
• Vomit Forth’s Seething Malevolence
• Wet’s Pink Room EP
• End It’s The Unpleasant Living EP