Reviews of the first Parquet Courts record, Light Up Gold, almost universally drew sonic comparisons with American bands of the Nineties; Pavement, in particular, seemed like an almost constant touchpoint. In actual fact, though, that debut full-length from the relocated Texans played like more of a paean to the classical punk ethic than any specific influences; short, snappy songs, abstract-but-angry lyricism and a decidedly laid-back attitude to production and polish characterised an album that burned with a visceral energy.
Another key facet of the punk aesthetic that Parquet Courts have, intentionally or otherwise, attempted to adopt as their own is a prolific rate of recorded output; given that Light Up Gold is barely 18 months old and they’ve dropped an EP, Tally All the Things That You Broke, in the meantime, they can check that particular box with conviction, too. That EP actually represents the upshot of the first session for this second full-length, Sunbathing Animal, although that doesn’t mean that the album’s lacking its own sonic identity. Superficially, there’s plenty of points of comparison with Light Up Gold, but scratch the surface and a thematic complexity quickly becomes obvious.
When I spoke with guitarist Austin Brown a couple of weeks ago, he told me that the title - which I, perhaps understandably, would’ve otherwise taken to be a nonsensical non-sequitur - is in fact a distillation of the album’s lyrical ideas. Frontman Andrew Savage saw his cat soaking up the rays through a New York window, and remarked upon the simultaneous freedom and constraint of the act; those ideas run through Sunbathing Animal from top to bottom, particularly in artistic terms.
‘Dear Ramona’, for example, might be delivered eccentrically, but at its core it tiptoes across that same line between between infatuation and voyeurism that countless love songs before it have made their calling card. ‘Ducking & Dodging’, meanwhile, is apparently a feverish ode to end-of-tour displacement, whilst ‘What Color Is Blood’ seems to make nods to anxiety and depression that are unnerving in their anatomical specificity. Just like the musical cues, these ideological points of reference are by no means novel; instead, it’s the off-kilter approach to them - opener ‘Bodies Made Of’ discusses “slugs and guts” in breezy fashion - that makes them feel fresh.
Whether Sunbathing Animal is any more thematically deliberate than Light Up Gold is probably up for debate; sonically, though, this new effort feels ever so slightly more considered. That first record was laid down within the space of three days, but the band had plenty of time to ruminate upon this one in between sessions; there’s little touches, here and there, that suggest as such. The plethora of overdubs on ‘She’s Rolling’ provide one example; the delicate outro to the otherwise-chugging ‘Raw Milk’ is another. Perhaps the key case in point is the album’s standout, ‘Instant Disassembly’; running a little over seven minutes, it feels like a riposte of sorts to the band’s own customary rough and ready ramshackle. It’s at once a love song and a lament to long nights of debauchery; Savage groans that “I kept explaining that I was too tired to speak”, but the manner in which the chirpy guitar line counters that sentiment really points to what Parquet Courts so often do best; tongue-in-cheek.
Perhaps inevitably, Sunbathing Animal isn’t quite as striking as Light Up Gold, although the fact that it sounds pretty similar - at face value, at least - is probably no bad thing, as the band try to carve out a sonic identity that stands apart from a comprehensive line of lazy comparisons. Unlike its predecessor, this isn’t quite a thrilling record; its energy and invention, though, points to big things for Parquet Courts, especially if they can continue to adhere to such a ferocious work ethic.
7Joe Goggins's Score