Masters of Their Craft
Few bands evoke the effortless intensity of the punk aesthetic better than the Brooklyn quartet, and for five (technically six) albums, the band has built up a polished portfolio of intellectually stimulating lyrics and thick-handed guitar rock. After making indie rock headlines and several “Best of 2013” lists with their near-perfect sophomore effort, Light Up Gold, the group has explored nearly every corner of rock music since then, with very little interest in repeating ideas, themes or giving much of a shit about what their fans expect. There’s Gold’s follow-up, the spacious though still gritty Sunbathing Animal (2014); the rough-edged anxiety stew of Content Nausea (also 2014) and its staple track “Uncast Shadow of A Southern Myth,” which helped solidify the creativity of Parquet Courts as first-rate storytellers; and the almost unlistenable noise rock EP, Monastic Living, which explored some pitch black corners, while 2016s Human Performance felt like the first cohesive collection of Parquet Courts’ sonic and personal explorations.
This year’s Parquet effort, then, should serve as a significant treat for fans. Produced by Danger Mouse, Wide Awake! is at once refreshing and familiar: like seeing an old friend after a decade or two. This record tackles a large number of ideas: from white guilt, to gentrification and homelessness, to K2, death and Andrew Jackson (just to name a few)—all very impressive considering the record clocks in at just under forty minutes. Economic, bold and wise-beyond-years, Wide Awake! can easily be considered one of the group’s most successful records, albeit a little bizarre.
But that’s mostly what made Parquet Courts so exciting in the first place: this sense of total control. Even when dual guitarists Andrew Savage and Austin Brown are riding amplifier feedback, it feels as if the group has a handle on every aspect of their craft. Bassist Sean Yeaton and singer Savage’s brother, Max, hold down the rhythm with infectious simplicity. Meanwhile, Andrew Savage has created the cover art for each Parquet album, considering Parquet Courts a vehicle for his music and art and taking up the challenge of creating something visual for sounds.
This notion, of vivid storytelling amidst art punk instrumentation, recalls the best of Lou Reed and Bob Dylan—the folk bards of yesteryear—yet, here it’s spritzed with a hint barbarous protest. Perhaps this helps to explain the intensity of the group’s heavier tracks: “Total Football” and “Violence,” visual feasts in their own right, set the tone for the album at its outset. In the shouting moments of “Total Football,” Savage delivers a soapbox sermon for the masses, lashing out against professional athletes before denouncing Tom Brady; while one would be hard-pressed to listen to “Violence” and not imagine the lyrics being adopted by a neo-punk art commune: “What is an up and coming neighborhood and where is it coming from?” asks Savage. “My name is a warning for the acts you are about to witness/Which contain images that some viewers may find disturbing.”
Yet at the same time, the record balances the savage and disturbing with the gentle and introspective. On the album’s third single, “Mardi Gras Beads,” for example, Brown spoonfeeds us some kindly musical analogies (“I’m coming in late but I’ll never modulate us / To a minor key”) against a backdrop of Pavement circa-Crooked Rain guitars. “Tenderness,” on the other hand, feels like a request for the world to love just a little bit more—to stop time for just a moment and exist in a collective human condition. “Open up your mouths, pollinate your peers,” seems like as good a mantra as any.
Just as on Light Up Gold, Parquet Courts demonstrate their rhythmic dexterity with a perfect blending of tracks on “Almost Had To Start A Fight/In And Out of Patience.” The first taste of their new material, this single revisits the punchy, hard stop rhythms of the “Master of My Craft”/“Borrowed Time” pairing, but this time with a heightened maturity (“Why am I searching for reason?” asks Savage amidst a flurry of drum fills). In so doing, the group manages to punctuate their existing material and carve out an even more complex body of work that is sure to go down in the annals of indie rock classics.