Parquet Courts - Wide Awake! - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Parquet Courts - Wide Awake!

by Mark Moody Rating:10 Release Date:2018-05-18
Parquet Courts - Wide Awake!
Parquet Courts - Wide Awake!

Not far into the monstrous track ‘Violence’ off of Parquet Courts’ new album, Wide Awake!, A. Savage lets his fury fly and spits out the line “this is why we cannot afford to close an open casket”.  As he is so adept at doing as punk rock’s sitting poet laureate Savage evokes a century’s worth of images with one simply stated line.  The arc from Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, to Emmett Till, to Noah Pozner and Jack Pinto, and latest but sadly not last Luke Hoyer is a long line of unintended “open casket” martyrs to the cause of ending senseless violence.  Savage in his self-proclaimed fully “woke” state is willing to hoist the burden on his shoulders to put the world on notice regardless of anyone else’s complacency.  His knack for a turn of phrase has always been amply evident including on last year’s solo turn Thawing Dawn, but the snippets thrown about on Wide Awake! rival the Minutemen’s D. Boon’s edifying notebook noodling.  A line like Boon’s “richer understanding of what’s already understood” is met at its level with Savage’s “immunization of human sympathy” on ‘Normalization’ or “emancipation from expectation” on ‘Total Football’.  

But first things first, Parquet Courts have teamed up with Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) as producer for their most musically diverse yet cohesive set yet.  As odd a pairing as it sounds, last year’s outstanding and woefully ignored Parquet Courts pairing with Italian composer Danielle Luppi, MILANO, was released on Burton’s 30th Century Records.  So a crossroads existed for this pairing to intersect, and intersect it does.  The band’s punk roots blend seamlessly with everything from 60’s harmonies, 70’s hard funk, some dancehall/ska flavored tracks, and a couple of softer moments where co-songwriter Austin Brown takes the helm.  

Though clearly a band effort, Savage takes lead vocal duties on most of the tracks.  And given the molten funk center on many songs and flavoring on others, the other star of the show here without question is bassist Sean Yeaton.  If you’ve seen the band live you know he stands center stage swiveling his head back and forth the entire set.  It’s a site to behold, but wherever it is that bassists go to sell their soul for otherworldly skills Yeaton has been there and come back a man possessed.  Whether punched up as lead instrument on the P-Funk/Bootsy Collins meltdown of ‘Violence’ or snuffling around the corners and made sentient on ‘Before the Water Gets Too High’, the album is Yeaton’s playground.  If next time I see him live he’s not levitating two feet off the ground with his head spinning fully around Exorcist style, I’ll be deeply disappointed.  (Note:  Will be seeing them at Atlanta’s Shaky Knees Fest so can report back on that).

The album starts with the abrasive punk scratchiness that the band had returned to on MILANO after the prior year’s milder Human Performance.  Though ‘Total Football’ is a reference to the non-American sport it does consist of an all out blitzing style as referenced in the song’s title.  Savage declares at the outset that the band are “conductors of sound, heat and energy” and all bets are off from there.  The band intones different soccer positions, occupations, and the like, recalling the old Godfather’s song ‘Birth, School, Work, Death’, while Yeaton’s bass line mimics the song’s title throughout.  And in a final blast of rage, Savage takes a hilarious shot at American football and its titular head Tom Brady.  As great as this song is it does nothing to prepare you for the onslaught of the next track, ‘Violence’.  The bass work is, to put it lightly, badass and is met with guitar blasts and drummer Max Savage’s martial drumming.  That’s all before the P-Funk Mothership lands center stage and a cavernous cackling voice warns us of the violence of daily life.  All the while, Savage details a litany of transgressions and  societal failures heap upon heap similar to the lists of sensory overload of ‘Content Nausea’.  The four minute long track has so much going on it feels twice that length and its power is hard to describe.  Violence against each other and the environment are given equal time.

The foot is finally off the throat for a bit with the bossa nova beat and woodblock click of ‘Before the Water Gets Too High’, which hides a tale of global warming and rising waters infiltrating the city.  It’s a sleek funky infectious dance of a song.  With similar slinkiness, the dancehall cabaret of the Brown-led ‘Back to Earth’ is an interesting laid back break later in the album.  Not to be outdone, Savage’s similar turn on the piano driven ‘Tenderness’ is not too far afield from the same named General Public song.  Though Savage’s request for a “fix of a little tenderness” is underlaid by an unsettling goon squad come to slow down everyone’s clocks, that while maybe well intentioned, recalls the mind erasers of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  The song does make for a more sentimental sounding closer.  The only sweeter sounding track on the album is the Hollies-cum-‘Range Life’ harmonies of the reserved fade of ‘Mardi Gras Beads’.

Elsewhere, the funk/ska breakdown of the title song begs for a Madness ‘One Step Beyond’ dance routine by the boys as pictured on the album cover.  The staccato vocal repeats of ‘Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience’ echo the repetitive violence we are continually subjected to, while the second half of the song caters unabashedly to the pogo crowd with it’s Eddie Cochran ‘Nervous Breakdown’ riff.  As great as the freewheeling roller rink sentimentality of ‘Freebird II’ is, I hate that the song’s title will probably provoke too many concert heckler requests.  This is another track where Yeaton is all over the freaking place.  There are a few more straightforward punk tracks scattered around, while Brown’s combination of school choir and heart monitor beats is an interesting twist on ‘Death Will Bring Change’ that even throws in a bit of a show tune ballad into the mix, even if not entirely successful.  

Pairing up with Burton on Wide Awake! may have been a bit of a calculated gamble, not that Parquet Courts would have been daunted by that.  But it has come at the perfect moment in their career.   When they listened to these tracks on playback it must have been obvious to the room that they fucking nailed it.  Aside from the vitriol that is necessarily spilled it’s obvious that the band members are having a blast and ably picking each other up with shouted call and response harmonies, whistles blowing, and uncharacteristic goofiness in spots.  There’s an element of fun to perfectly counter the nihilism that Savage so eloquently rails against.  Wide Awake! is the wake up call we and the band needed coupled with the groove to get your ass in gear and champion worthy causes.  It’s the type of album that used to come with the printed instructions:  Play It Loud!  So call your friends and neighbors over and enjoy the brilliance on display, loudly. 

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