Dan Friel's new album suggests that he wasn't done writing hooks for his band Parts & Labor when the outfit went on hiatus last year. Though the songs on Total Folklore are all solo instrumentals, they share the band's sonic language: The noise that rises from Friel's tangled pile of gear is inseparable from the tunes he plays on his keyboards. Keys and effects pedals don't just provide texture; both are an essential part of his melodic phrasing.
Total Folklore should remind Parts & Labor fans that Friel is just as good a songwriter as he is a sonic hacker. On the 12-minute opener, "Ulysses," he establishes a thudding, blown-out beat and a couple of simple progressions, then proceeds to squeal and oscillate through variations on his tune with the curiosity of a good jazz soloist and the abandon of a child turned loose with a jumbo box of crayons.
The solo format does liberate Friel to try some things that wouldn't have fit within Parts & Labor's catchy songs. "Windmills" centers on a harshly repetitive whirl of a phrase, and three short "Intermission" tracks offer quiet, abstract breaks in the exuberance. Most tracks, like "Swarm," simply bask in the power of Friel's scrambled but surprisingly touching melodies.
Total Folklore gets a little too familiar at times, though. For example, "Scavenger" strongly recalls the soaring chorus of "A Thousand Roads," from Parts & Labor's 2011 album, Constant Future. Still, Friel's solo work captures a big part of why that band mattered and gives him some extra room to explore. The results are, for the most part, as rich and nuanced as anyone could hope for. Just think of these songs as capturing a master at play.