opinion byDERRICK ROSSIGNOL
In January 2014, four Brooklynites collectively known as Parquet Courts made their network television debut on Jimmy Fallon’s “Late Night” during the host’s final weeks before making the leap to “The Tonight Show.” Sporting thrift store sweaters and equally marked-down haircuts, the band tore through a breakneck performance of “Stoned and Starving,” a highlight from 2012’s Light Up Gold that Fallon introduced as Rolling Stone’s sixth-ranked single of 2013 and in which the group describes “debating Swedish Fish, roasted peanuts or licorice.”
Parquet Courts related to the crowd with appetite-fueled, feedback-accented, neo-punk slackadelia, so long as viewers also had a major case of the munchies. At the end of the blazing performance, Fallon plugged the album and the group’s upcoming shows, as is late night tradition. Bassist Sean Yeaton put his arm around the host, who looked to his right, mistakenly thinking lead singer Andrew Savage touched him. Then Yeaton got bold: although never confirmed, it sure looked like he was about to grab Fallon’s butt before guitarist Austin Brown tapped his shoulder and prompted his bandmate to reconsider. Brown flashed a quick peace sign, Yeaton kept smiling and offered a weak wave. Only hyper-observant viewers knew something was slightly amiss for just a brief moment.
Punk is not dead, but today, it’s rarely the quick-paced political anti-establishmentism it was in its dawning. The green haze of legalization is sweeping the country, the future for twenty-somethings seems alternately saturated with opportunity and doomed by student debt, and while there are plenty of issues that young people should pay some mind to, modern punk purveyors like Parquet Courts look at most things consequential with some degree of irony.
Much like the butt-grab that never was, the band’s career seems like one big instance of the group getting away with something, and nobody’s caught on to their shenanigans yet. They’re subversive, but not serious, less a Women’s Studies major picketing outside a birth control hearing and more a screwball convincing a buddy that being able to palm his face means he has cancer. They’ll never rally their peers to write letters to their elected representatives, but perhaps thay might if they found themselves in a state that hasn’t yet “gone green” in the Snoop Dogg/Lion sense.
They’re punk for millennials, the harmless, apathetic deviants the Adult Swim generation needs and deserves.
Even the group’s name is part of the joke. Why go from Parquet Courts to the phonetically identical Parkay Quarts? Did they get red-eyed and think it would be hilarious, then realize once their heads cleared that the prophetic drug-fueled concept could actually refer to two-pint containers of name brand margarine? Is some cunning linguist manning controls in the shadows, or is it just four dudes passing a roach joint around behind the curtain?
Which reality is true isn’t of essence, but either could explain the eclectic offerings on Content Nausea, the group’s most recent release and second of 2014, following Sunbathing Animal from June, which was billed to Parquet Courts.
Although they’re instrumentally tight and on task, the aesthetic indifference of lead singer Andrew Savage’s often-deadpan, Steven Wright-esque delivery, cheap-sounding-but-endearing guitar and lo-fi production — this record having been captured on a 4-track tape recorder — present the band as putting in equally strenuous efforts to play their instruments well and hide the fact that they had enough interest in anything to leave the couch on which they fell asleep while watching “Too Many Cooks” the night before.
They detach from their detachment for the title track, a 2 a.m. philosophy lesson from an over-tired and under-qualified theorist with a surprisingly coherent lament about the white noise, mental fatigue and identity crises created by constant media exposure in the age of ceaseless hand-phone contact: “Wasting dollars, wasting hours, wasting talent with wasted power. No one says it but it's known: the more connected, the more alone.”
But the everything-all-the-time-ness of Internet life has served Parkay Quarts well on this record, a teenage Tumblr page filled with reblogs of cats, Taylor Swift lyrics and "Doctor Who" fan art. “Psycho Structures” is propelled by a drum machine beat and Jack White Icky Thump-era synth, while album closer “Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth” is a relatively straightforward six minutes of aimless rambling that still seems to end too quickly and evokes The Velvet Underground’s “Heroin.”
The most headscratchingly awesome inclusion is a surprisingly faithful, horns-and-all cover of the Nancy Sinatra classic “These Boots are Made for Walkin’,” title truncated here to “These Boots.” They play it straightforward but stylistically true to themselves, perhaps while suppressed smiles hide their tongues in cheek, and if you asked them, they’d probably say they couldn’t not record the song after hearing Jessica Simpson sing it for the “Dukes of Hazzard” soundtrack.
While their subdued sarcasm and quiet goofiness might be the antithesis of yesteryear's stone-faced punk, Parquet Courts/Parkay Quarts are the new rebellion, the voice of a generation that gets its news from Stephen Colbert and The Onion, sees the outside world as real-life GIFs and watches an entire season of “Orange is the New Black” in one go because it’s easier than moving. Punk is alive, but it just needs a second to squeeze drops of Visine into its eyes before it can bust out ferocious riffs and sing about nothing, or stick it to the status quo but maintain Austin, Texas levels of weirdness.