Music News

Indie Punk Band Parquet Courts Cares a Lot

It's a little too early to crown 2013 the "Year Of" anything in particular, but you might be able to make a strong case for 2013 as the "Year of the Musical Manifesto."

Observe Daft Punk's calculated marketing buildup toward Random Access Memories, with tales of organic music-making on the duo's robo-tongues and a mantra/sermon called "Give Life Back to Music" to open the highly anticipated album. Check out the album cover of British post-punk band Savages' Silence Yourself, with a block of text challenging the listener to block out the ever-chattering voices of the Internet to hear "the distant rhythm of an angry young tune." See Kanye West, who blasted his new single, "New Slaves," from 66 strategic rooftops around the world before the live debut of the song and another, "Black Skinhead," on SNL. Both songs are political, race-conscious, and anti-materialistic, as strident as an Occupy protest and frazzled as an Info Wars rant (made all the more complicated/compelling by West's new sneaker line for Nike).

Even scrappy, NYC-via-Texas punks are getting into the "statement" game. Parquet Courts' debut LP, Light Up Gold, originally issued by Dull Tool Records in 2012 and re-released by What's Your Rupture at the start of this year, comes accompanied by text penned by songwriter Andrew Savage:

"This record is for the over-socialized victims of the 1990s' 'you can be anything you want,' Nickelodeon-induced lethargy that ran away from home not out of any wide-eyed big-city daydream, but just out of a subconscious return to America's scandalous origin."

Built out of mismatched bits of Pavement's buzz and drool, the Modern Lovers' "lemme tell you something" verve, Can's repetitious groove, and the Sonic Youth's unhinged thrust, Light Up Gold is a fantastic album, distinguished from the glut of lo-fi albums with little to say underneath the reverb and hiss by its clear willingness to say something. Parquet Courts is specific about its malaise, whether debating Swedish fish or roasted peanuts in "Stoned and Starving" or the military-industrial complex in "Career in Combat." Unlike so many of their blown-speaker peers, Savage and bandmate Austin Brown's vocals are mixed way up in the mix; you can hear every word.

"Well, we have a message. We want people to hear it," Savage says.

Despite the poetic approach — and perhaps because of the clear ties to Pavement — the press has quickly labeled the Courts a "slacker band." But the term is a loose fit, at best; Savage started this interview stating that the band had just completed recording 30 songs in 10 days. "We don't really fuck around when it comes to recording," he says.

"From a press point of view, it's one of those easy narratives that people just kind of make, so that they don't really have to think about what's going on," Savages says. "It's much easier to just say that we're a 'slacker band' than it is to really analyze what it is we're doing."

Clearly, there's more to Parquet Courts than just catchy hooks and fuzz guitar. Like so many "You Know You Were a '90s Kid" memes crushed, Light Up Gold serves as a nostalgia filter, a punchy post-punk bullet-point presentation reminding us it was never really "the good old days."

"[The '90s] were, I feel, a blindly optimistic time in this county, where it was like a 'feel-good era,'" Savage says. "When I think of imagery from my era, it's like PSAs encouraging recycling and dancing Keith Haring figures. Once the next decade came around, it was kind of a wake-up call for that attitude."

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.