Parquet Courts' Misery Is Exhilarating
Parquet Courts is a Brooklyn by way of Texas band that has just released its new third record, Sunbathing Animal. The quartet has drawn comparisons to New York rock and punk acts as various as the Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls, and Sonic Youth, but rock critic Ken Tucker says this album proves Parquet Courts is an original.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Our rock critic, Ken Tucker, has a review of the new third album by Parquet Courts, a band from Brooklyn by way of Texas. The quartet has drawn comparisons to New York rock and punk bands as various The Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls, and Sonic Youth. But rock critic, Ken Tucker, says this album, called "Sunbathing Animal" proves Parquet Courts is an original.
(SOUNDBITE OF PARQUET COURTS SONG, "DUCKING & DODGING")
PARQUET COURTS: (Singing) You've been ducking & dodging, but you can't come home no more. You've been ducking & dodging, but you can't come home no more. That key that you've got won't fit this lock no more. That key that you've got won't fit this lock no more. You've been ducking & dodging, but you can't come home no more.
KEN TUCKER: The rapidly strummed electric guitars, the slamming drums, the jittery base, the shouted vocals - yes, Parquet Courts is doing its best to remind you why you like punk rock in the first place. While the band is not opposed to stretching out a groove - one song here cracks the seven minute mark - the essential strategy is to state the verse, let the verse do the work of a chorus and let you try to figure out the words.
(SOUNDBITE OF PARQUET COURTS SONG, "ALWAYS BACK IN TOWN")
PARQUET COURTS: (Singing) Always back in town. Always at your door. Always marking days off the calendar. Always my last night. Always saying goodbye. Always hear you roar. Always see your strides. Always passing through. Always hanging my hat. Always on my mind. Always feed my cat. And I'm always packing my bags. I'm always back in town, according to you. Always back in town.
TUCKER: That's "Always Back In Town" - essentially a list of habits and behaviors sung by bandleader Andrew Savage in his sweet and sour croon. The composition operates as a repetitive drone that finds a healthy momentum and maintains it, the musical equivalent of a fighter doing jump rope training. Springy and agile, this is well-muscled music as performed by guys who like to moan and complain a lot.
(SOUNDBITE OF PARQUET COURTS SONG, "DEAR RAMONA")
PARQUET COURTS: (Singing) An air of self delusion that no two arms could ever contain - this lady is a hypnosis poet. And when she speaks, her words weep like rain. She tiptoes through the side streets in the morning and wears dark sunshades at night. However she might be spending her time, I don't know. You'd have to ask her neighbors. Well, she ain't ever going to open up, no. No, she ain't ever going to open up. No, not to no one.
TUCKER: Parquet Courts creates songs that dare you to be irritated by them. They stick with a riff like that one - a song called "Dear Ramona" - and shuffle into it lines such as whoever she might be going to bed with, you can read about that in her moleskin. There's an undercurrent of sarcasm there. And I would be surprised if the Parquet Courts boys don't own a few moleskin notebooks themselves. But making clever snark develop into something more emotional, more revelatory - that's the challenge the band sets for itself.
(SOUNDBITE OF PARQUET COURTS SONG, "SUNBATHING ANIMAL")
PARQUET COURTS: (Singing) One creature I return to, one habit I neglect. I cannot slow the pace at which I yearn. Frank and unabashed, and I become a frozen servant. Smiling, asking nothing in return. Fang-tooth woman foaming at the mouth as she addressed me. Not with moving lips, but with the rabid wild arresting. Words not yet intended to identify emotion scrawling bold and oblique in my head. I've hung out at your service jobs. I've watched you wait and be ignored. Bled into the clatter as they sipped at what you poured. I cling to your perimeter as you float in their margins. Oblivious to being stung, their satellite becomes my sun. I've flown into that trap before when things have gotten dark. In the depths of stranger's glances lays the more ferocious spark.
TUCKER: On that, "Sunbathing Animals" title song, Parquet Courts plunges headlong into its invigorating take on post punk rock music. When I listen closely, I heard over the course of the whole album, a certain snippy attitude toward women cropping up a tad too frequently - as in that song's line about fang-toothed woman foaming at the mouth as she addressed me. The band is also inordinately fond of what I would call the Bob Dylan surrealism adjective, as when, on another tune, the singer says, let me slip into my insomniac shoes.
(SOUNDBITE OF PARQUET COURTS SONG, "INTO THE GARDEN")
PARQUET COURTS: (Singing) Time waits over, behind your shoulder. And the onset of your wandering years until you're not the same old fool you once took yourself for. Let me slip into my insomniac shoes. Step out the door into the garden of my unpaid dues.
TUCKER: These wise guys give themselves as much of a hard time as they give everyone else. And it's that self-awareness that redeems this exhilarating music. Parquet Courts is great at making anyone's misery sound surmountable, including its own.
GROSS: Ken Tucker reviewed "Sunbathing Animal" from the group Parquet Courts. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.