I am behind the times and, frankly I can live with that. The times, they are a-changing and I am a-not or at least a-not-quickly. I first heard of Parquet Courts late last year and knew, right then, that if I was to ever be cool, I had to like them very much. As an act of pointless rebellion, I waited … until now. So, retroactively, “Have you heard the latest Parquet Courts album? If music is this good now, just think how good it will sound in 2013, that is if the Mayans were wrong about the end times.” As it turns out, the Mayans were wrong, or, more likely, we misunderstood them, which is the first time conspiracy theorists have ever been wrong. Ever. But Parquet Courts? Now, they sound remarkably like they did way back in August of 2012. They sound catchy and punky and capable of creating devastating ear worms. The times changed, but the music didn’t. Whew!
I encountered Parquet Courts through two separate podcasts with live recordings. Both sessions had two tracks in common “Borrowed Time” and “Stoned and Starving”. From just two listening sessions, those songs became permanently lodged in my brain. The bouncy guitar and refrain from “Stoned and Starving” and the vocals in “Borrowed Time”. I would sing myself to sleep or, more honestly, keep myself awake singing and re-singing those 5 second snippets over and over, until even the counted sheep sang:
I was walking through Ridgewood, Queens.
I was flipping through magazines.
I was so stoned and starving.
Parquet Courts sounds a little like any number of other bands but not in a bad way. To me, it’s the rhythmic repetition of Grass Widow combined with the near-chaos of Harlem. To others, it might be Pink Flag era Wire mixed with Austin, Texas (the location, not a band). Whatever your flavor, the sound is neither too raw nor too polished. The lyrics are more personal than many punk bands, giving you real life snippets and observations without giving you a full narrative. Dr. Seuss gives you stories. Parquet Courts is a best-of slideshow.
Yes, it’s punk, but this is neither angry hardcore, nor pose-laden pop punk. This is just simple, listenable punk. Not everyone will like it, but no one will run screaming from their aural assault. Screaming for other reasons? Maybe, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.
Like many of the best punk-flavored bands, this album sounds DIY, but not a sloppy version of it. The fancy studio tricks just weren’t necessary. The guitars themselves are mostly just well-amplified clean electric guitars. The songs are tantalizingly simple. I think, given enough practice, I could play almost any of the songs. They are simple, but not stupidly simple. These simple pieces are knitted together into a real song where repetition makes a point rather than indicating a lack of ideas. There are, for example, both lead vocals and backing vocals. The lead vocals are just some guy singing real things, maybe even a guy you know. The backing vocals are just one or two other guys speaking into microphones at just the right times and often not at the same time as the lead vocalist (i.e. simple + simple > 2*simple).
Although there are standout songs (the above-mentioned pair and “N Dakota”, for example), I found it hard to do anything but just listen in order, start to finish. I tried, but would lose myself and notice that several fun songs just passed by. This is a full album and not just a collection of singles. The songs are similar enough to sound cohesive as an album, but diverse enough to not be a single epic song with fifteen verses.
Overall, this is not a masterpiece, but it is a well done, well conceived, well executed collection. Their DIY sound avoids unnecessary polish, but also risks unsmoothed parts sneaking in. It is really good. Not jaw-droppingly good, but still a credible candidate for any best-of list … well maybe not best polka albums, but you know what I mean. Between this band and Fergus & Geronimo (an appealingly strange band with two members in common), the future promises lots more musical fun from these Texas-born Brooklynites.
I have one complaint. Feedback. A little feedback? Fine. A single feedback tone lasting more than a couple of seconds? No, thank you. As a matter of personal preference, I do not have pierced ears. I prefer that my eardrums remain unpierced, too. Yes, it’s only two songs, out of fifteen, that have any sustained feedback and even those are only near the end of the song. Still, it exists. Fortunately, through nimble fingers and quick use of technology, my eardrums remain intact. I accept your apology.
*For some, the title will trigger TV ad-watching memories. To others, it will just seem odd. The latter are luckier than the former.