This review originally appeared on The Thin Air
There must be a sense of relative trepidation whenever an underground band are thrown into the media spotlight from the depths of relative obscurity, and viewed by many a rock critic as the latest bearers of the indie rock torch. That sort of instant exposure was something that befell Brooklyn via Texas natives Parquet Courts, in the early part of last year, following the release of their second record Light Up Gold, especially after the success of the utterly infectious ‘Stoned and Starving’.
Light Up Gold was considered a little rough around the edges, which resulted in the group being classed as your stereotypical ‘slacker’ band, who paid too much heed to Pavement and the Velvet Underground. A tad harsh perhaps, as they ploughed through the recording process in only three days and cut all the tracks live.
Having toured relentlessly off the back of said album, they have now released their third long player, Sunbathing Animal; itself predated by the Tally All the Things That You Broke EP. Due to the band’s hectic touring schedule most of Sunbathing Animal was written on the road over an extended period of time, which has allowed the foursome to expand and experiment with their punk-based sound. The record’s main theme focuses on how they deal with getting stuck in the regular habits and cycles they find themselves in.
‘Bodies Made Of’ kicks things off at a canter, with its duelling discordant fuelled guitar riffs, slow-paced repetitive drumming and rambling but whimsical lyrics, setting the tone for what is to follow. It’s a formula they stick to, with the spoken-like performances of dual vocalists Andrew Savage and Austin Brown on show during, ‘What Colour Is Blood’ and ‘Raw Milk’, both of which seem to saunter across the finish line.
The adrenaline gets one hell of a work out during the title track, as its frantically disoriented guitars match Savage as he spits out his lyrics incessantly, all the while the younger Savage, Max, bashes the skins as if his life depended on it. ‘Ducking & Dodging’ and ‘Always Back In Town’ – the latter an ode to what bands go through on the road – allow the disjointed guitar thrashing and vocal yelping to continue unabated.
Parquet Courts have decided to test some new ground on Sunbathing Animal with the dawdling and Jonathan Richman-indebted ‘Dear Ramona’, a tune that may or may not be a sarcastic tale about voyeurism. The fragmented harmonica at the tail end of the six minute plus ‘She’s Rollin’ seems rather forced and out of place. However it’s the even longer ‘Instant Disassembly’ that gets the head bobbing along, as Savage laments about losing a loved one with the line: ‘Mamacita, take from me what I stole/Oh, I get a look from you that slips me/To a blank page in my soul’.
It’s a record that has tried to blow off the Pavement comparisons by experimenting, and in a way it’s succeeded. The production on this record is tidier, even if it’s still hard to disseminate at times who is singing between Savage and Brown. Had they just released Light Up Gold mark II, Parquet Courts would’ve been seen by the most fervent of music scribes as resting on their laurels, but Sunbathing Animal shows them doing anything but.