“Most freedom is deceiving / If such a thing exists,” claims Parquet Courts. And yet, toward the end of “Sunbathing Animal,” Andrew Savage’s trademark blurt-singing voice declares (at the rate of hypertension), “I now can hear my pulse alone, this manic pulse I cannot slow.” Whatever this elusive freedom may be, Parquet Courts approaches it by shaking walls, shattering them, and creating everything but musical convention in its new album, Sunbathing Animal.
With deadpan intensity, Parquet Courts dares to sound careless. But contrarian and tongue-in-cheek lyricist Andrew Savage carefully concocts this carelessness, deploying the right amount of craft at exactly the right timing. Though at first glance the sound is reminiscent of a failing punk-rock garage band, Sunbathing Animal has variety and balance at every corner, establishing it as an album of high artistic caliber.
The album is a collection of songs that differ in pace and mood but they hold together nonetheless. It is tangled cacophony in the form of a cohesive collection. Everything is pulling apart, but they pull apart in opposite directions, striking a sort of centered zen. The album as a whole focuses on the theme of freedom or lack thereof, but the musical variation on this theme keeps it fresh throughout.
Both “Instant Disassembly” and “Ducking & Dodging” communicate an alienation from the self but strike two different tones: While “Instant Disassembly” feels like the honest insight of a drunken man, “Ducking & Dodging” easily cloaks the repetition of such dark messages as “stripes and bars” while peppy toes tap to classic rock sounds.
The juxtaposition of surface carelessness with lyrical complexity is a forte that Parquet Courts thrives on. “Dear Ramona” is simply airy with pleasant guitar riffs and of course, the effortless narrative singing of Andrew Savage. Yet his silly voice delivers depth buried beneath the surface: “This lady is a hypnosis poet and when she speaks her words weep like rain.” Whoever Ramona may be, there is an intimacy that inducts the listener into her life. Parquet Courts achieves the proximity and narrative force of spoken word, while harnessing and modifying musical energy at the right moments.
The album includes a diverse array of track lengths, varying from a minute to seven minutes. Where the longer songs may repeat or drag (refer to the wiry, never-ending harmonica-guitar in “She’s Rolling”), the shorter pieces like “Vienna II” are straight-laced interjections that get to the point. Like needing black to understand white, they are both necessary components of this animal (sunbathing, that is).
Parquet Courts seems to be the character at the masquerade whose masks are infinitely layered, one above the other. There’s freedom and happiness, but then there’s confinement and pain. There’s discord and mild guitar, but then there’s lyrical depth and complexity. There’s long tracks and short tracks and fast tracks and slow ones. There’s every antithesis that a critic could ever hope for.
Written by Juhee Lee