Published on June 5th, 2018 | by Noah Dimitrie0
Parquet Courts – Wide Awake
Parquet Courts do some of their best work to date on ‘Wide Awake,’ as they explore the cultural and political landscape we find ourselves in.
“Allow me to ponder the role I play…” sings frontman Andrew Savage, “in this pornographic spectacle of black death.” The lyrics come from the thunderous second track on Parquet Courts record ‘Wide Awake,’ a song which marries its aesthetic with its subject matter. Savage screams introspectively, channeling his own self-hatred of his place in society. It’s simultaneously sobering and fittingly confusing; he speaks of the violence and destruction in the world, he references his own white privilege, yet he serves it up alongside an apt, verbal shrug. “Violence is daily life” is chanted in the haunting but catchy hook of the song. It serves as a foundation for this vibrant, aggressive, and satirical post-punk record, perhaps the finest in the band’s discography. We live in a fucked up world and we’re asking all the right questions. But is that enough?
But it’s not just the lyrics that are evocative. The band, along with producer Brian ‘Danger Mouse’ Burton, infuse the guitars and percussion with a catchy yet simple efficacy, harkening back to the days of Gang of Four and Minutemen. Those bands took up political causes and channeled them into an aesthetic—one that was simultaneously danceable and gritty — making kicking, screaming, and moshing look like a ballroom waltz. Savage and his band of Brooklyn misfits transpose that kind of energy to the Trump era, creating a catchy gut-punch that looks outward, inward, under the couch cushions, just about everywhere for answers. Yet, the deep-seeded satire of the album indicates that there are none. If that doesn’t capture the zeitgeist, I don’t know what does.
Additionally, the band dodges the pitfalls of some of their earlier projects on ‘Wide Awake.’ Instead of a samey abrasion that blended their previous tracklists into a slightly bland knuckle-sandwich-smoothie, ‘Wide Awake’ taps into a wide variety of tones and vibes. The track ‘Before the Water Gets Too High’ allows a simple, funky baseline to take the lead while Savage rests his weary vocal chords. He instead mumbles a tune about the rich and their apathy. It’s a perfectly self-aware moment for the band; they signify their ability to sacrifice their hardcore roots for chill, groovy subtext.
That track is followed up by ‘Mardi Gras Beads,’ a send up of something like The Byrds or The Kinks, with tight harmonizations that provide a necessary dose of sweetness to the project. And then we are back to raucous punk with ‘Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience.’ These dynamic variations in genre and tone could run the risk of jarring the listener in the hands of a lesser rock collective, but Parquet Courts make each song as engaging and concise as possible, trimming any excess fat (the longest track clocks in at four minutes). You may prefer one vibe over another, but the band ensures they cannot be accused of unoriginality or long-windedness.
As indicated earlier, the band wears its influences on its sleeve. ‘Freebird II’ is an obvious nod to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s oft-requested jam, but once again the band coats their homage with a sardonic wit. “Free, I feel free” chants Savage on the song’s final refrain, but it’s entertainingly facetious. If Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song was a sincere pillar of rock history, ‘Freebird II’ is the smarmy graffiti that vandalizes it.
But there is a purpose to their revisionism. The satire of the album comes through greatest when the band reminds you of rock’s self-serious past. The album’s titular track summons The Ghost of Talking Heads Past, with a shrill, sporadic guitar riff that bounces the tune up and down like a basketball. The group collectively shouts, “I’m wide awake! Mind so woke cause my brain never pushes the brakes!” The concept of being “woke” coming from a white band may seem distasteful, yet Savage and co. makes it abundantly clear that they are looking inward. A la Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Humble,’ Parquet Courts use the opportunity to skewer the modern, cultural humble-brag. And the cherry on top is the album’s closer, ‘Tenderness,’ which borrows Otis Redding’s famous lyrics for a modern investigation of empathy in the face of nihilistic world. It’s all quite refreshing for an album so comfortable with riffing on the music’s past.
Rest assured, the album is still damn entertaining. ‘Wide Awake’ and ‘Tenderness’ are earworms unto themselves, as are most of the tracks on the record. The band understands that you can be jokingly self-aggrandizing without sacrificing entertainment value. At its core, ‘Wide Awake’ is an infectious and memorable album, front to back. If it falters at all, it may be on ‘Back to Earth’ or ‘Extinction,’ both of which are fantastically catchy, but could be accused of a form of repetition that comes off as playing it a little safe on an otherwise ambitious album. Yet, the record remains easy and breezy, so the occasional repetition is not terribly offensive even if it is noticeable.
Ultimately, the record unites its variations of tone into a fascinating and catchy collage of contemporary emotions. The way the songs combine and contrast one another highlights the unique ethos of this decade. We experience cultural and informational overload, complete with a staggering amount of nostalgia. Parquet Courts communicates that brilliantly while tinkering with the question of where rock n roll stands in the modern pop-cultural landscape. With ‘Wide Awake’ it proposes a catchy answer through its diverse revisionism and zeitgeist-capturing message of social unsurety. If there is any concrete truth at the heart of “Wide Awake,” it is that society, culture, and perception all have a plasticity that makes any analysis of them rather vague. Everyone has a standpoint, a personal experience of the world. This fractured state is the perfect fodder for a post-punk band. In one of the best albums of 2018, Parquet Courts finally finds their place, and that place is goddamn compelling.