Transplanted from Texas to Brooklyn, Parquet Courts is an up-and-coming punk group that released their debut album, “Light Up Gold,” in August of last year on principal guitarist/songwriter Andrew Savage’s label “Dull Tools,” which was then given a wider release in January. The peculiar cover art for the record features a man riding a bucking bull with a startlingly serene look on his face. This arresting image can produce many impressions: remaining calm under stress, total focus, complete control, time slowed to stillness and, more generally, Texas. In a very similar way, the music on the whole record displays a sort of wild suggestiveness.
“Donuts Only” lasts just 80 seconds and begins, hilariously enough, sounding like Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” It then leads into a razor wire jungle of guitar feedback and finally into Savage’s piercing yelps. After tossing off lyrics mentioning “red state’s Baptist fervor” and the “tomb of buried thought-slums,” Savage drops the bomb: “As for Texas: donuts only. You will not find bagels here.” Clearly, the song can satisfy listeners from quite a few perspectives. As a poet, Savage can be very verbose, and by extension songs like “Donuts Only” reward multiple listens in order to tease out the nuances. His lyrics, while funny, are bone dry so that the declamation “There’s a hole you shan’t fall into” by a character in the song slowly and naturally sounds more like fantastically sly and cheeky songwriting than anything
moralizing or serious.
Yet, Parquet Courts isn’t too cool or sarcastic for its own good. There are certain strains of this record that can come off as quite sincere, and the band writes good enough songs to casually and effectively commingle them with absurdity and humor. Perhaps the most strikingly heartfelt, yet still demonstrably post-modern song on the record is “N Dakota.” It begins, “Train death paintings/Anti-meth murals/Color the ghettos of North Dakota” over a melancholy and distinctly ’90s (Pavement) guitar jangle. The track is focused on these types of Midwestern, agricultural-wasteland images that are quite familiar to those of the readership who have recently driven to Colgate.
However, the songwriter simultaneously tries to strip them bare to see “while squinting/the hidden layer.” In a previous paragraph I referred to Mr. Savage as a poet, and I’d like to reiterate that here. His lyrics struck the reviewer as particularly crafted and often brilliantly conceived. As if from a dream he discovers “Feudal beginnings/Amberwave looseness/Post-nordic grinning/Tired and toothless” and “Former slave quarters/Tucked by the alley/Serf population/Too high to tally.” All the while, “At night we hum to Canada’s snoring.”
Money is one of the central preoccupations of “Light Up Gold.” The deep historical-economic sympathy evident in “N Dakota” is in direct contrast with the high irony of “Master of my Craft” and the tongue-in-cheek goofiness of “Stoned and Starving”; the former is a frantic piece of self-satisfaction and the latter a parched, compulsive and blazed jaunt through Queens. Sung by fellow vocalist and songwriter Brian Greene, the lyrics of “Master” portray the cynical euphoria of financial independence. “Thread count’s high and commission’s high/Hourly rates high/Minute of your time?/Forgettahboutit.” These are the vague, beneath-the-surface feelings (“I got a gold medal, record time/Gold record, diamond mind” or “Socrates died in the f***ing gutter”) that are often rationalized away by members of the bourgeoisie, yet often serve as determining factors for our sincerest aspirations, sublimating into middle- and upper-class “ideals.” “Stoned and Starving,” on the other hand, is lovingly and endearingly ironic. Parquet Courts seem to be thoughtful and ultimately honest stoners, and there is something intensely relatable about this junk food odyssey, “I was debating Swedish Fish, roasted peanuts and licorice/I was so stoned and starving.” The track evokes a fragmented and episodic feeling in which images pass in fleeting succession – empty and careening by. That is the joy and plight of dealing with an acutely suppressed short-term memory. Ingeniously, the munchies take on a not necessarily condemnatory social slant, as an example of arid and mindless consumption. The song is an impressive exhibition of balance in which the band toes the line between humor, satire,
identification, playful self-critique and irony.
The record is by no means perfect, as walking the tightropes of wordiness and irony is extremely difficult. There are, resultantly, a few weak tracks toward the end. This very mild quibble aside, “Light Up Gold” is an excellent record for lyric lovers, stoners and fans of punk or 90’s rock and a distinguished debut.
Contact Eric Reimund at [email protected]