Parquet Courts - Sunbathing Animal

What a great day for punk rock. My real favorite album of the week is Fucked Up’s bleary, anxious, grown-up hardcore masterwork Glass Boys, a grand and surging piece of work that I can’t write about because they’re my friends. (Our own Chris DeVille did well with that album in his Premature Evaluation, anyway.) This is also the week of Bob Mould’s Beauty & Ruin, a stripped-down and straightahead collection of pogo-worthy songcraft from one of our great old masters, a guy who’s on a remarkable late-career hot streak. Priests, a D.C. band with a ton of promise, come out blasting with their wound-up and tough Bodies And Control And Money And Power EP, which you should really check out. (Another of today’s best albums has nothing to do with punk rock. It’s Walkmen frontman Hamilton Leithauser’s regal solo debut Black Hours, which I came very, very close to naming as this week’s AOTW.) And then there’s the New York band Parquet Courts, whose tense and tangled and conversational take on punk rock wriggles and buzzes and sprawls, getting under your skin in all sorts of ways, on Sunbathing Animal, the band’s second album.

Before I get any deeper into this piece, I’m going to say something, and you’re probably not going to like it. I think Pavement sucks. I have always felt this way. It’s not a complete and sweeping hatred; I like a grand total of four of the band’s songs (“Summer Babe,” “Cut Your Hair,” “Stereo,” “The Unseen Power Of The Picket Fence”). And there’s personal baggage there, too: The $8 I dropped on a Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain cassette back in the day (when I was really hoping for more songs like “Cut Your Hair”) the sloppy and lackadaisical Lollapalooza 1995 set that sent me scrambling to see Redman on the second stage after a couple of songs. But my whole thing with Pavement has always been this: They sounded bored and uninvolved, the noise coming from their guitars coming off like the scratches and skronks of fuckers who couldn’t be bothered to get it right. That tossed-off quality is what led many, many people to fall in love with them. It bugged the shit out of me. I bring this up because Pavement is the one comparison-point that will not leave Parquet Courts. Other bands’ names come up in reviews — the Velvet Underground, Television, the Fall — but thanks to the sidelong drawls of dual frontmen Andrew Savage and Austin Brown, plenty of critics hear that same sloppy quality in Parquet Courts that they once heard in Pavement. I don’t think that’s fair or right. Parquet Courts are tight in ways that Pavement never were. Their songs are tense and wiry and frantic, driven by a rigid sense of purpose rather than an urge to wander. They’re a punk band, and Pavement couldn’t have been a punk band if they’d tried.

Sunbathing Animal is even more of a punk album than its predecessor, 2012′s Light Up Gold. The fast songs here, like the title track and “Duckin’ And Dodgin’,” explode like nothing the band has ever done here, to the point where it might make sense to add the Buzzcocks to the list of bands you need to namecheck in Parquet Courts reviews. But even on the longer songs, the ones where the band gets expansive and skronky and starts fucking around with oblique tunings and discordant notes, they keep things moving forward, with half an eye on structure. Take, for example, the six-and-a-half minute “She’s Rollin’,” which, with its frenetic harmonica squeals and its simultaneous angry-spider guitar solos, threatens to break into pieces by the end. That skronk-fest is messy, by design, and it comes as a logical end to a song that gradually frays its way to nothingness. And it comes sandwiched right in between two fast, hard, jackhammer-paced songs, a deliberate and necessary stretch before the next sprint. “Deliberate” is a word that comes up on our own Ryan Leas’s new Parquet Courts feature; the band wanted to make sure nothing on the album would lead them toward stoner-slacker caricature the way Light Up Gold’s great “Stoned & Starving” might’ve done. And that attention to detail pays off. Sunbathing Animal might superficially fit into someone’s preconceived idea of lo-fi DIY warehouse-rock, but it’s an intricately plotted and structured album, one that doesn’t make a big point of its planned-out nature but shows its effects nonetheless.

Lyrically, too, the band is a long way from the snarked-out post-grad munchie-seeking mentality we might’ve once imagined we heard in them. I’m not to the point yet where I can distinguish Savage and Brown’s singing and songwriting voices from one another, but both of them do vivid, pointed things with their words on Sunbathing Animal. The lyrics here are hard to parse, but they’re not inside jokes; they’re sharp evocations of mood and place. Their idea of character-sketching is something like this: “He spit when he spoke and sang like a wasp nest.” And they’re great at finding unlikely syllable-combinations that might mean nothing or everything and sound amazing regardless of meaning: “Lady Macbeth, rock me mama, like my back ain’t got no bone / Like clicks heard on the telephone / Like a sudden unhinged moan / That leaks out from your broken structure like a wall of unbound stone.” In that Leas feature, those two frontmen talk about the blues as a formative influence, and there are moments on the album where they find idiosyncratic but precise ways to describe certain difficult truths about the moment we’re all living through: “It’s a vulgar, hidden part of being tethered to the world right now / Spending all my dollars to remain a member, nothing in my eyes but a scowl.”

And there are messy, personal feelings in there, too, sentiments that don’t immediately reveal themselves, that stay hidden until you bother to scrutinize them. That title track sounds like a lightspeed rant until you sit down with the lyric sheet, and then it starts to look like a meditation on the balance of power in relationships, the flooding relief in letting go of your willpower. But there are touching and minute details in there, like in this scene: “I’ve hung out at your service jobs / I’ve watched you wait and be ignored / Blend into the backgrounds as they sipped what you poured / I cling to your perimeter as you float in their margins, oblivious to being stung / Their satellite becomes my sun.” If I’m reading all that right, this is a love song, and a great one. If someone like, say, Mark Lanegan, someone with the sort of singing voice we’re conditioned to hear profundity in, had song these guys’ lyrics, they’d become the sort of things that we’d use in Twitter bios or yearbook quotes. But it’s that combination of factors — poetry in an unrushed couch-drawl, rigor in an expansive sprawl-out — that makes Sunbathing Animal stand out, even in a week as crammed with great music as this one.

Sunbathing Animal is out now on What’s Your Rupture?/Mom + Pop. Stream it below.

Other albums of note out this week:

• Fucked Up’s vast and explosive Glass Boys.
• Hamilton Leithauser’s distinguished and whiskey-dipped Black Hours.
• Bob Mould’s sharp, pummeling Beauty & Ruin.
• Klaxons’ dance-informed psych-rocker Love Frequency.
• Miranda Lambert’s take-no-shit Platinum.
• Andrew Bird’s Handsome Family tribute LP Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of…
• Die Antwoord’s reliably gonzo Donker Mag.
• Gold-Bears’ giddy indie-popper Dalliance.
• Blood Orange’s Palo Alto soundtrack.
• Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s mid-’00s postcard Only Run.
• Echo & The Bunnymen’s sweeping, dramatic Meteorites.
• Peter Murphy’s theatrically gloomy Lion.
• Unsane side project the Cutthroats 9′s bleak and noisy Dissent.
• Soundtrack master Brian Reitzell’s solo endeavor Auto Music.
• Melvins frontman Buzz Osborne’s solo move This Machine Kills Artists.
• Darkest Era’s soaring Celtic metaller Severance.
• Jena Malone-fronted duo the Shoe’s I’m Okay.
• 50 Cent’s comeback attempt Animal Ambition.
• Priests’ Bodies And Control And Money And Power EP.
• Julianna Barwick’s Rosabi EP.
• Martyn’s Forgiveness EP.

Comments (27)
  1. This is definitely my choice for AOTW. Even with two fewer songs than Light Up Gold, Sunbathing Animal is 11 minutes longer. Despite that extra length, it keeps my attention way better than LUG, which always lost me in the tail end. Can’t wait to see these fellas with Protomartyr on sunday.

  2. I love Pavement to death, but I’ve never really found the connection with them and Parquet Courts. Anyway, this album is super great. In this piece and your cover story on them I just finished reading, I love the focus on the band’s writing. It really shows on this album. Great pick.

  3. There are some great moments on here for sure, but Light Up Gold still reigns supreme burrito for me.

    • I finally listened to “Light Up Gold” a few days ago in conjunction with my first listens of “Sunbathing Animal” and the former songs are getting stuck in my head. Definitely had more hooks, but I prefer longer songs, which I’m happy to see on the new LP.

      I’m definitely jealous of anybody seeing them live, as that show has to be a blast given all the great songs they have now between the two records.

      • Yeah, both albums definitely have a similar vibe/sound, but the song structures and album sequencing are WAY different. I’m sure Sunbathing Animal will grow on me, but as songs like “Instant Disassembly” drag on, it’s hard for me to keep interest.

        • Oh really?

          “Instant Disassembly” is one of the tunes I can’t get out of my head. Easily one of my favorites. A nice comedown after the shit-kicking on “Sunbathing Animal.”

          • I do like the riff though, it’s quite catchy. I just think it goes on for a little too long. I’ll have to give it a few more listens. OH man yeah, “Sunbathing Animal” makes me tired just listening to it. Props to the drummer!

  4. this week was full of great releases one of the best this year imo. This is a fine pick for album of the week and its definitely growing on me slower than Light Up Gold but in a way that just as good as being accessible because it makes me listen to it closer.

    Bob Mould, who I’m lucky enough to see in a few hours at Amoeba, also put out a record that I find really enjoyable so shouts out to the legend he is for still putting out quality albums. Big time Husker Du fan who’s just starting to get into his solo work and Sugar. I also read a great review about his dad recently passing away and it gave me a little more context to the record which is always nice

    of course Fucked Up’s Glass Boys is phenomenal in my eyes even though its seems to be either embraced or underwhelming to long term fans. The introspection of the record is great and although not as epic as David Comes To Life it still seems cohesive and full of energy. Its hardcore that is living the the rare dream of staying fresh after so many years.

    But my personal choice amongst all these heavy hitters has to be the Orwells new album. I say this only because I never heard of them until recently and the album totally impressed me. In the pitchfork review their compared to the Strokes and the more I listen to it the more I see comparison taking light in terms of trying to reinvent an already trite genre to most. Its slacker punks doing an absolute bang up job of singing about being young and stupid amidst a midwest background. The album is lot of fun and being young and stupid myself its the album I relate to most this week.

    But jeez this week has so many great records to soak up in the beginning of summer releases

    • I’m digging the Orwells as well. Solid album. They do sound like the Strokes, but with a large hit of weird.

      • The Orwells have been on my radar for a while now due to them being from my hometown… and I couldn’t be any more pleased with their new album. I can definitely see the Strokes comparisons, but they definitely also have a bit more of a 90′s flavor to their sound. Is it my favorite release this week? Probably not – Fucked Up and Parquet Courts take that title – but I did some driving around yesterday to it and it went perfectly with the sunny weather, windows rolled down, and some tapping to the steering wheel.

  5. I think the Pavement comparison comes from the emphasis on lyrics, the guitar sounds they prefer, the being pretty transparent about their influences thing, and the fact they seem like pretty average dudes. See also: the album covers; definitely the album covers. Fair point, though, that Parquet Courts are a far more tightly wound band than Pavement. In a sense Parquet Courts sounds like something that would fit in comfortably on the soundtrack to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 or something; it wouldn’t sound entirely out of place next to some early ’80s punk stuff, whereas it would seem pretty strange to be trying to kickflip TC’s roof gap to “Grounded.” And I mean that as a compliment in both cases.

    But indeed, this is a fine album and a fitting follow-up to the also-great Light Up Gold; the slower stuff like “She’s Rollin’” and “Instant Disassembly” is especially good.

  6. I couldn’t even process any new music this week, between Sharon Van Etten, Hundred Waters, Owen Pallett… 3 AOTY contenders right there. I like what I’ve heard from Parquet Courts and so this will definitely go on the pile.

  7. I really thought this would be Miranda’s week :(

  8. honlads  |   Posted on Jun 3rd +12

    Ah yes, but, counterpoint: Pavement are good.

  9. Too close to call between Hamilton Leithauser and Parquet Courts for me this week. Can understand ‘Sunbathing Animal’ getting the edge, but I have a feeling by year end ‘Black Hours’ will have stayed with me the longest.

  10. “Sunbathing Animal” is Parquet Courts’ third album.

  11. Also, tell us which current Top-40 acts you like, Tom, so we can be even more weirded out by someone who doesn’t like Pavement.

  12. Great album. Interesting how the author spends nearly the entire article trying say why they are better than Pavement…felt kind of desperate.

  13. has anyone heard the new led zeppelin remasters? are they a significant upgrade like the ’09 beatles remasters were or will i be good enough sticking with the ones i have?

  14. pavement TOTALLY could have been a punk band if they tried — see “serpentine pad,” “wanna mess you around,” “baptist blackstick” etc.

    parquet courts are pretty good, but they don’t sound like pavement hardly at all. they do sound influenced by bands that influenced pavement. they remind me more of the fall — tighter, more repetitive, and not as melodic as pavement.

  15. No mention of Tiger’s Jaw? It scratches the same alt-rock itch as last year’s Balance and Composure album for me, but a bit less melodramatic.

  16. album of the summer

  17. Love these guys, and this record.

    Anybody else get a strong Dead Milkmen vibe from PC?

  18. I am looking forward to this show at III man records tomorrow in Nashville.

  19. They get compared to Pavement because they sound like Pavement.

    Disclaimer: I also don’t like Pavement at all but I am enjoying these guys, so there’s that.

  20. The bass player looks like mark ibold and the lead guitarist looks like a young spiral and there album covers are very pavementesque. how can cut your hair be your favorite pavement song???? i think u need to give watery domestic another listen.

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