Review: Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal

Parquet Courts sound like they’ve barely broken a sweat writing these tunes.
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Parquet Courts sound like they’ve barely broken a sweat writing these tunes.
Parquet Courts Sunbathing Animal

opinion byBRENDAN FRANK

“I didn't come here to dream or teach the world things/Define paradigms or curate no livin’ days”. So went the mission statement, or lack thereof, on the first track on Parquet Courts’ first wide-release album, Light Up Gold. The Brooklyn quartet weren’t out to stir the pot; they were just normal dudes with normal problems. No matter what it may have sounded like, there was no rebellion to be had here, only acerbic wit and the power of observation.

Philosophically, Sunbathing Animal is very much apiece with its predecessor. Screwball moments that seem like they were stumbled on by accident come out of nowhere, and, occasionally, they’re revelatory. Ripostes and urban stoicism are tossed around casually, with an affable blend of breeziness and gumption. Here, Parquet Courts gently pull their sound in a few directions while holding a thumb down on their hallmarks: Elemental production, bustling tempos, and primordial vocals.

Light Up Gold unrolled as if it were the product of one marathon studio session, channeling Wire, Guided by Voices and several other lean, mean lo-fi acts of the 80s. Conversely, Sunbathing Animal is pervaded by the sense that each song was built to stand alone. The runtimes are longer, and though it holds together reasonably well, the album isn’t constructed with quite the same sense of continuity. Parquet Courts have mostly done away with interludes, expanding their song structures and poking inquisitively at new sounds.

Allowing their songs more breathing room doesn’t always serve Parquet Courts well. “Always Back In Town” and “She’s Rolling” are both overlong and excessively repetitive; paired back to back they serve as a glaring lull on an otherwise enjoyable album. On the verbose but highly entertaining ramblings on “Ducking and Dodging”, and “Instant Disassembly”, a lounging 7-minute straggler that’s easily the best song on the album, Parquet Courts convincingly make the case that they can improve on the format.

But while Parquet Courts seem to be struggling with their editing process, Andrew Savage’s lyricism continues to stand out, and a number of the more experimental tracks on the album are unqualified successes. The best lines are often delivered with such inconsequence they can easily be overlooked, as on “Dear Ramona”: “This lady is a hypnosis poet and when she speaks her words weep like rain”. The title track draws from hyperactive hardcore acts like Bad Religion and Dead Kennedys, but remains relentlessly catchy in the tradition of “Borrowed Time”, and “Black and White” chugs along superbly with a four-to-the-floor beat, hyperventilating bassline and guitar squall.

Again, Parquet Courts sound like they’ve barely broken a sweat writing these tunes. That they can convey such complex ideas with such simple musical rudiments sets them apart from their contemporaries, but on the evidence of Sunbathing Animal, they’ll continue to be at their best when they keep things as tight as possible. Itdoesn’t provide the thrill-a-minute jolts of Light Up Gold, but Parquet Courts may yet become a garage punk band that millennials can call our own. B