Parquet Courts – ‘Sunbathing Animal’

Hip Brooklyn band's third album is their least immediate to date - but it's also in many ways their most rewarding

Parquet Courts’ second album, 2012’s ‘Light Up Gold’, was a success. It represented a pay-off – in terms of popularity, at least – for the four-piece led by Andrew Savage, a hard-working New York-based artist and record-label boss.

When ‘Light Up Gold’ cottoned on outside of the band’s Brooklyn zip code, it took Parquet Courts on a tour of the most important new bands festivals – including a powerful set of shows at SXSW, in Savage’s native Texas – and enabled them to come and play to audiences in Europe. However, there remained the suspicion, via the occasional difference of opinion with a journalist, or refusing an NME photoshoot, that this kind of success wasn’t quite in line with Parquet Courts’ punk ideals. The only things this band cared about were playing shows and putting out records – everything else was a sideshow.

Last October, in response to their sudden ‘hot new band’ status, the quartet released an EP titled, ‘Tally All The Things That You Broke’. Its five tracks marked a retreat from ‘Light Up Gold’’s tendency towards immediate riffs and dry wit – especially the rapped verses on twitchy seven-minute breakdown ‘He’s Seeing Paths’. Lodged in the middle was ‘The More It Works’ – previously a live outro to their awesome pothead anthem ‘Stoned And Starving’, the recorded version was frazzled, with singer Andrew Savage repeating its “The more you use it, the more it works” refrain like a man gone stir-crazy. His lyrics nodded to Parquet Courts’ widely-reported disdain for their position as the band everyone wanted a piece of.

They sound just as jaded here on album number three, with the exception of the outstanding and whimsical title-track. Written from the perspective of Savage’s cat Frida, it’s a hooky thrash that examines what his sun-seeking pet is thinking (“There is a patch of light that hits the floor I’ll often occupy/Stretch my arms and legs and close my eyes”). Launched by a rasped “one-two-three-four” it’s a rollercoaster-fast thrill, driven by drums that sprint like Minor Threat’s ‘Stand Up’, and marks a rare moment that could sit comfortably on ‘Light Up Gold’.

However, over 13 tracks Parquet Courts slowly crush the notion of repeating that album. ‘Bodies Made Of’ is disconcerting, its needly guitar line unravelling into a jarring, unexpected breakdown. The freaky, six-minute monster ‘She’s Rolling’ finds Savage and Brown’s guitars sparring, climaxing in a bloody dirge that sounds like they’ve invited a passing harmonica-player into the studio and assaulted him.

Though initially immediate, ‘Black & White’ – where Sean Yeaton’s bass and Max Savage’s drums build a familiar Parquet Courts groove – discintegrates halfway through as Austin Brown’s cacophonous guitar solo lasers through the dirty Black Lips shuffle like a Thurston Moore facemelter.

Savage’s lyrics are just as difficult to follow. ‘Vienna II’, has him ranting, “How’d It Die? We broke its neck/We raised it to the power of 10”, before it flips between chords that sound exactly like the chorus on Kings Of Leon’s ‘Wasted Time’ and a tinny, space-age guitar motif.

By the time of ‘Sunbathing Animal’’s last burst of breakneck thrash, ‘Ducking & Dodging’, they’re still venting the frustration outed on last October’s EP. Savage sounds aggressive rather than wounded, though, barking a message to anyone who thought they knew Parquet Courts: “That key you got don’t fit this lock no more.” And, as creepy ballad ‘Into The Garden’ closes this uncompromising third album, ‘Light Up Gold’’s immediate charms seem fully affirmed as a red herring.

‘Sunbathing Animal’ is not an immediate or cushy listen, but it is gripping; a considered and brutal reminder that Parquet Courts’ aren’t necessarily an accessible band. Quite deliberately, they’ve made it a challenge to like.

Ben Homewood