Release Date: May 18, 2018
Record label: Rough Trade
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Parquet Courts' approach to their latest album has been surprisingly big league. The singles were as clean as they've ever made, they chose Danger Mouse to produce (U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers), and bizarrely even appeared on Ellen. For DIY underdogs, the band were making all the wrong noises ahead of release. On the record itself, though? Parquet Courts are making a ton of the right ones.
Last year was a doozy for the cliche of the 'prolific' band - King Gizzard put out five records, Thee Oh Sees are still being Thee Oh Sees - but New York's Parquet Courts also deserve a shout. In the two years since Human Performance, two members have released solo records (vocalist Andrew Savage with Thawing Dawn and bassist Sean Yeaton collaborating with Mark Kozelek on Yellow Kitchen) whilst last year the band teamed up with Italian composer Daniele Luppi for MILANO, a conceptual full-length about the Italian city. What's remarkable about the band's output is not the quantity but the quality - Human Performance felt like a real breakthrough, one that might have needed some space to follow up.
At the conclusion of "Total Football," the captivating introduction to Parquet Courts' wondrous and outspoken new album, Wide Awake!, there's a lyrical barrage worth contemplating: "Swapping parts and roles is not acting but rather emancipation from expectation / Collectivism and autonomy are not mutually exclusive / Those who find discomfort in your goals of liberation will be issued no apology / Fuck Tom Brady." The abrupt shift from empowering manifesto to nihilistic provocation is in keeping with the kind of agit-prop Parquet Courts ….
Light Up Gold introduced the world to their unique blend of SST hardcore, Pavement slacker-jams and Velvet Underground chug. It also contained the vast majority of their best songs. Sunbathing Animal was harder and meaner that its immediate predecessor, but it also displayed some refinement and a honing of their sound. Human Performance, though sometimes criticized by members of the band as having too many ballads, was a quantum leap forward in terms of songwriting - particularly on songs like "Dust" and "Berlin Got Blurry".
Over the course of their output so far, you might think that Parquet Courts are just a bunch of jokers playing post-punk music; their first big song was about being 'Stoned And Starving', their third album was named after the lazy sunbeam-chasing feline, they've put out albums under their alter egos Parkay Quarts - I could go on. When it was announced that they would be working with Danger Mouse as producer on new album Wide Awake!, it was easy to jump to the conclusion that this would be their most upbeat and poppy album to date. Of course, anyone who has paid proper attention to Parquet Courts knows that they're one of the most tightly-wound and politically outspoken bands currently working when they switch on that mode - and with the current climate being what it is, they would have been betraying themselves if they hadn't accessed their frustrations while writing and recording Wide Awake!.
Wide Awake! is Parquet Courts' fifth album (or seventh, if you include the trimmings of Parkay Quarts and last year's Daniele Luppi collaboration) in as many years, with scarily prolific Andrew Savage releasing his first solo album late last year as well. And yet, the band show no signs of slowing down or diminishing returns yet, with their "main timeline" records topping the last successively. And now, just to add fuel to their perpetual fire, they are angry too.
BY BARRY ST. VITUS America's most changeable punk outfit has dropped their fifth release, again, pushing out in new directions on several of the 13 tracks. Long-time fans will find a lot to like here, while others will be tantalized by their pivoting from mostly punk driven, to a funk driven mode for a few tracks. There was a concerted effort to branch out and incorporate some previously unexplored sounds.
As familiar as they seem (four white guys, guitars), Parquet Courts don't have many peers. Their music is both passionate and removed, rock not as a vehicle of emotional release but the simple venting of calories. Over the course of six albums, the band has explored a sound rooted in punk and early-'70s art rock that relies on the past without seeming sentimental about it.
The band’s decision to explore these heretofore untapped genres can at least partly be accredited to the presence of Danger Mouse as the record’s producer, a decision that made a large swathe of Parquet fans squirm in their seats with anxiety. Given his pop proclivities and recent involvement with acts like Red Hot Chili Peppers and U2, the announcement that Danger Mouse would sit at the helm for this album invoked both the ire and the confusion of devotees. Speaking on the incongruity and unlikely pairing between Parquet Courts’ and Mouse’s musical sensibilities, Savage shrugged it off, saying, “I like that it didn’t make sense.
"You should see the wall of ambivalence I'm building!" sang Austin Brown on his band's 2013 stoned 'n' starving slacker-rock breakthrough Light Up Gold. The band sure don't sound ambivalent now. "Allow me to ponder the role I play/In this pornographic spectacle of black death!" co-leader Andrew Savage hollers on "Violence," a standout on his band's fifth LP that conjures both the Fall and Fear Of Music-era Talking Heads, an epic rant about normalized barbarity that spins into a panic attack of tangential nightmares, while a pitch-shifted Vincent Price-sounding-motherfucker cackles menacingly in the background.
Andrew Savage doesn't keep you waiting long for his first snarl. Just under a minute into 'Total Football', the taut opener on Parquet Courts' sixth album, the meandering bassline drops away to afford Savage's scream more space. "Are you quite done now?" It's immediately clear that Parquet Courts aren't done now, not by a long chalk. Based in Brooklyn, Savage and his bandmates - guitarist and fellow songwriter Austin Brown, bassist Sean Yeaton and Savage's younger brother Max on drums - have been releasing excellent punk-rock records defined by venom, groove and lyrics that make you wish you read more books since their 2011 debut 'American Specialties'.
Described by Austin Brown as a response to the nihilism born out of our current “hateful era of culture,” Parquet Courts's sixth album, Wide Awake!, tackles such heavy subject matter as climate change, political corruption, government propaganda, gun violence, and police brutality. Though the Brooklyn post-punk quartet's songwriting remains prone to tangents, the argument on “Total Football” that “collectivism and autonomy are not mutually exclusive”—a theme that crops up throughout the album—marks a significant thematic progression from hazily “debating Swedish Fish, roasted peanuts, or licorice” on 2012's “Stoned and Starving. ” Produced by Danger Mouse, Wide Awake! adds pop polish to Parquet Courts's usual lo-fi approach, and it ramps up the band's sneering punk and anti-establishment sensibilities.
Parquet Courts' fifth studio album - sixth if you include 2014's Content Nausea released as Parkay Quarts - was produced by Danger Mouse and, unsurprisingly, it's occasionally quite a departure from what's gone before. The quartet led by Andrew Savage leave one foot firmly entrenched in punk but the slacker rock tag now seems all but misplaced, the band instead branching out in several directions that makes for their most eclectic collection to date. Despite its title suggesting a homage to the Dutch footballing greats of the 1970s led by Johan Cruyff and Ajax of Amsterdam, Total Football is a classic, raw punk cut bookended by slow, sludgy sections that give just a whiff of that old slacker rock tag, albeit briefly.
After years refining their Americana punk sound into something laser sharp and often brilliant, Parquet Courts started messing with the formula. First came an EP with rapper Bun B in 2017, then a collaboration with Italian producer Daniele Luppi and Karen O on the tightly arranged and subtle Milano. Meanwhile, the Courts themselves were working with producer Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) on their most diverse album yet, Wide Awake! Songwriters A.
In a world where post-punk has started to mean nothing much - or rather, anything remotely angular with an overall foreboding temperament - Parquet Courts are a constantly evolving anomaly. Amid the chaos and abrasion of their music lies a lyrical astuteness that's sharpened over time and on Wide Awake, while the band's oblique self-analysis and 21st-century paranoia still linger on the more leisurely tracks, singer A Savage makes way for bigger anxieties. This album centres more on politics and the band's grievances with modern America.
For quite some time now, Parquet Courts have threatened to be an essential band. Over the course of their first five LPs - forgoing the live album from Third Man Records and a couple of less-than-engaging EPs - the band have been finding their feet and tuning their creative ears towards how they produce critical, awe-inspiring work. Having taken two years since the release of their last album, 'Human Performance', to really hone in on this golden formula, they have re-emerged with 'Wide Awake!', their most intriguing, captivating and well-rounded release to date.
Even with Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton bringing pop discipline to the production of Parquet Courts' "Wide Awake!" (Rough Trade), the New York-via-Texas quartet sounds more unhinged than ever. It scrambles punk, funk and tender ballads, as if unconcerned that it all might turn into a big mess. That it's not is a testament to a band that has always hidden its considerable attention to craft beneath a ramshackle exterior.
The latest from Brooklyn quartet Parquet Courts is called Wide Awake! and mostly sounds the part. The band's fifth album does best when it's alert and immediate with an emphasis on tight, dynamic basslines and curt, jumpy guitar. More tedious moments arise when the pace slows and the music stagnates, leaving co-lead vocalists Andrew Savage and Austin Brown inadequately supported.