Review: Parquet Courts' Monastic Living

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Parquet Courts is everything a great rock band should be. Not only are they energetic, chaotic and loud, but their sound is sharp and deliberate. Andrew Savage’s hybrid yell-sing vocal style puts the lyrics front and center, and more often than not they are a winning mix of tongue-in-cheek humor, wordplay and personal insight. They aren’t the kind of band to do something for no reason, but the problem with their new EP Monastic Living is that it’s all reason without any of the signature trappings that make you actually want to listen. Clearly a statement record, the project spans nine jagged, unstructured tracks, most of which are a sludge of buzzy guitar, drums and synths.

The liner notes that accompanied Monastic Living deride our lofty, intellectual culture, declaring simply, “We’re just a band,” but that sentiment seems a bit disingenuous. There are lots of bands out there, but very few of them have been compelled to release a project like this.

Make no mistake though, Parquet Courts is still a tremendously talented outfit, and when they imbue this EP with any sense of traditional structure, it’s a good time. Chugging bass and guitar make “Alms for the Poor” sound like an enjoyable Sunbathing Animal B-side, and the dizzying frenzy of “No, No, No!” is the band at their best.

Unfortunately there are seven other songs, which play like you took a hacksaw to an 8-bit arcade game. Parquet Courts has always had an experimental bent, but these records are jarring at best (“Poverty and Obedience”) and self-indulgent at worst (“Monastic Living II”).

The dichotomy between pure anarchy and tight restraint has always made their music engaging. Tracks like “Ducking and Dodging” that oscillate between black-and-white and violent color are the group’s bread and butter. Monastic Living is all chaos though, and is more uninteresting than it is progressive or boundary pushing.

Parquet Courts probably knew that the reaction to this EP would be tepid, and if it’s the prelude to a grander, better developed project it could be worth reevaluating in the future. On its own it’s a statement without much backing it up. Monastic Living doesn’t have to be enjoyable—and it certainly isn’t—but by the end, after trudging through a half-hour of sonic mud, it has failed to expand the mind. C MINUS