Parquet Courts Wide Awake!

[Rough Trade; 2018]

Styles: punk, funk
Others: Parkay Quarts

The Parquet Courts story is classically punk rock. It starts in mid-2000s Denton, Texas — hometown of the band’s unofficial figurehead Andrew Savage — which served as a locus where its future members would come to meet the University of North Texas student. Once they had each established a relationship with Savage (either through academia, house shows, or non-scholastic fraternity), Savage, his brother Max, Sean Yeaton, and Austin Brown gradually packed up and left Denton for Brooklyn to test their mettle as a punk outfit in the city that served as the genre’s breeding ground four decades earlier. Like The Dead Boys and The Feelies before them, Parquet Courts emigrated from their quaint home town in search of a more accepting, more left-of-center music scene where they could explore a punk sound in front of a wider audience. Their backstory is fitting, as the Courts have drawn from and been compared to nearly every major punk band in the genre’s canon since their breakthrough album Light Up Gold. And here on Wide Awake!, Parquet Courts continue their tradition of marrying rough and tumble punk austerity with an erudite edge while treading the newfound territories of funk and Americana.

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.”

But Danger Mouse’s hand in the creation of Awake! has been more of a gentle push than a hard shove. The band still run wild with their trademark aggression and bravura, often revisiting the alternatingly brash and pensive styles of 2014’s Sunbathing Animal. However, that’s not to say that Mouse isn’t present on the album; his contributions lie in the G-funk synth line on “Violence” and the sporadic keyboard plinks and accordion solo on “Back to Earth.” Wide Awake! isn’t a document of the Courts’ capitulation to a pop majordomo, and haters can rest assured: they haven’t abdicated the reins to their producer.

After they proved (or perhaps discovered) that they have the capacity for compassion on Human Performance, a return to the jittery post-punk screeds about urban unease and personal alienation would feel like something of a backslide for Parquet Courts. But co-songwriters Savage and Brown strike a nice compromise between the group’s gruff past and meditative present here. Their thoughtfulness shines through as Brown waxes nostalgic about his paint-chipped Mardi Gras beads and the memories they’re attached to. It’s there when Savage shakes off his deterministic hangups to become “free like you promised [he’d] be” on “Freebird II.”

Still, Parquet Courts haven’t totally forsaken their verbose art-punk diatribes. At the top of “Violence,” Andrew proclaims, “Violence is the fruit of an unreached understanding that flowers from the lips of scoundrels.” On the opener “Total Football,” he shouts, “Collectivism and autonomy are not mutually exclusive/ Those who find discomfort in your goals of liberation will be issued no apology.” Shifting between broad social commentary and scrupulous personal introspection, Savage and Brown position themselves in a lyrically enviable spot: they’re sentimental, but not cloying; socially conscious, but only preachy when they mean to be.

In the middle of Wide Awake!’s final track “Tenderness,” Savage drops the most profound line on the album: “Affectation is a drought that you wait through when you hate everything that you do.” It sounds like an invitation for detractors to call him out for the record’s incessant genre-hopping. Considering how the previous dozen cuts zip through Minutemen angularity (“Normalization”), Wire grit and brevity (“Extinction”), and Talking Heads polyrhythms (“Wide Awake”) to land on a closing number that sounds like Little Feat being covered by Lou Reed, it seems like Parquet Courts are intimately familiar with affectation. But make no mistake, these stylistic aberrations are far from disingenuous. No, Wide Awake! is the album in which America’s most consistent punk band once again distill their myriad influences, this time with a whole new list of reasons why their minds never push the brakes.

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