Light Up Gold

Review: Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal

As you may have noticed with our various features and mentions of the band, we here at Rust Is Just Right are big fans of the band Parquet Courts.  Their album Light Up Gold made our Best Of 2013 list*, and when we heard that a follow-up was coming this year we were extremely excited.  We loved their incisive blend of Pavement-meets-Minutemen smart-ass punk, and were hoping for another quick blast of their nervy, no-frills guitar rock.  However, it seems that these expectations have only set us up for disappointment, and while Sunbathing Animal has its moments, too often it seems like we have to work to get its full rewards.

Part of what made Light Up Gold work so well was the willingness of the band to get to the point and then get out of the way.  Parquet Courts would write a couple of quick hooks, say their piece, and then end the song–Light Up Gold was a lightning-quick 15 track/33 minute album, with several songs less than two minutes.  When the band would stretch out on certain tracks, like “Master of My Craft” or “Stoned and Starving”, there was enough momentum to sustain your attention, and enough interesting ideas that made it worth your while to stick with it (we wrote a feature specifically about the latter’s use of making the mundane seem epic, and how the band used the relatively epic track length in comparison to the rest of the album to its advantage in our Feats of Strength feature).  On Sunbathing Animal, many of the tracks seem to stretch out a minute or so too long, at least if you have the Light Up Gold template on your mind.

There’s still a lot to recommend on Sunbathing Animal, however.  Yes, the comparisons to Pavement’s slacker-ish attitude and careful tunelessness are still apt, and those trebly guitars with minimal distortion are still on full display.  Songs like “Vienna II” and “Always Back in Town” keep up the uptempo, ramshackle spirit of their earlier work, and songs like “Black and White” and “What Color is Blood” show that the band can find new areas to explore within a similar sound.  It’s in songs like the title track that you can see the new emphasis of Parquet Courts, focusing on ideas like repeating patterns and unbreakable cycles.  “Sunbathing Animal” is one song where the longer-than-expected song length eventually works to its advantage, with the anticipation of some sort of resolution continually delayed, increasing the tension that the listener feels as the band bashes away and vamps on a single chord with barked-out vocals.  By the end, you’re ready to sing along with the words of the title, and somehow it provides a satisfactory conclusion even though the music itself doesn’t seem to resolve as you would expect.

But even knowing in advance the emphasis on repeated patterns can make the album a slog in certain places; the album practically dies with “She’s Rolling” in the middle, and “Raw Milk” kills all the momentum from the goofily fun “Ducking & Dodging”.  Then again, one of the highlights is “Instant Disassembly”, which somehow manages to ride a simple melody played at a languid pace over the course of its seven minute long running time; it certainly helps that while it may be basic, the melody is still catchy.  I imagine that the band had in mind the irony of naming their longest song “Instant Disassembly”; it’s possibly also why they named the song that almost stops the album dead in its tracks “She’s Rolling”.  I can admire their intent, but as a casual listener it’s not always a successful approach.  While Sunbathing Animal has grown on me with repeated listens, it’s unlikely to take the place of Light Up Gold in my car’s stereo.

*We know that technically Light Up Gold was released in 2012, but it was such a limited run that most people didn’t hear it until its 2013 re-release.  And if you claim that you were one of those few people who did hear it in 2012, you’re probably a liar.

Feats of Strength: Parquet Courts

One of our favorite albums here at RIJR from 2013 was Light Up Gold from Parquet Courts; in fact, it finished in a tie at the number 9 slot (we’ll set aside the fact that it had a limited release in 2012, because nobody you know bought the original limited-distribution release).  The album blows by at a blistering pace with 15 songs in 33 minutes, all delivered in a quick, witty punk style that first captures your attention with witty hooks, but then keeps you smiling as you listen to the hilarious lyrics.  I think the best description I came up with is if the guys from Pavement decided that they wanted to do an album of Minutemen songs; now that I think about it, that sounds like a great idea in and of itself–Stephen Malkmus, you should probably get on that.

The one exception to the hit-’em-and-then-quit-it rapid-fire approach to songwriting on the album was the song “Stoned and Starving”; on the album where two songs edge over three minutes and many are only a minute-or-so in length, “Stoned and Starving” seems positively epic by clocking in at over five minutes (with the live version posted above being around seven minutes).  And what subject is worthy of such intense scrutiny?  Parquet Courts analyzed such subjects as mental health in two minutes (“No Ideas”) or the shitty economy in one (“Careers in Combat”), so whatever the topic is it has to be pretty complex and subject to nuanced interpretation, right?  Well, the title of the track says it all–it’s about a guy who is stoned and is starving.

It is the extremely trivial nature of the narrator’s task at hand juxtaposed with the epic scope of the track that makes the song so brilliant.  The consistent, driving bassline gives the song a constant forward-motion, evoking our hero’s dogged quest to rectify his problem.  The looping, repeating guitar riffs mirror the circles in which our protagonist is travelling, as he continually finds himself in Ridgewood, Queens and flipping through magazines.  There are many philosophical questions that are confronted–are these ingredients actually safe to eat, would Swedish Fish, roasted peanuts, or licorice accomplish the task with the greatest efficiency, and would the money be better spent on cigarettes even though smoking kills?  At some point, our narrator clearly wanders off, as evidenced by the meandering guitar solo that tapers off over the last two minutes of the song, fading out into feedback; but the bassline and the rhythm guitar part continue, indicating that the quest likely went unfulfilled.  What hath become of our hero?  Who knows, but maybe we as an audience can learn from the failures of this particular journey, and meanwhile listen to some kickass punk rock.