Parquet Courts want to see you shake your ass. The veteran art-rockers from Brooklyn are still cynical, still jaded, still crafting songs that mimic our worst tendencies with a sneer and a laugh, but on their sixth record Wide Awake! they’re having a blast doing it. While Parquet Courts have always laced their music with a deadly humor, here they balance it with righteous anger at the world we find ourselves in. Their existential crises take place on a dancefloor, not a therapist’s couch.
“We know every record’s gonna be different. We just let the things that the record is gonna be about establish themselves and reveal themselves through the process of working on the album,” says Andrew Savage, one half of the band’s writing tandem. “At a certain point I had a lot of anger that I wanted to articulate in a way that I hadn’t before,” he adds. This frustration takes shape in a more productive way on Wide Awake!, less angry and more humorous than the band is used to displaying. This lyrical bent, paired with the more rhythmic direction their instrumental parts have taken (thanks to drummer Max Savage and bassist Sean Yeaton), results in the band’s bounciest record to date—still full of quips that will cut you to your core, but enveloped in a sort of joy that subtly radiates through the album’s thirteen tracks.
“We talked about what we wanted for the record in broad terms, because ultimately it’s the songs that will end up defining it. But when we first started, we wanted to make a record with a lot of grooves on it—a rhythmic record with danceable moments,” the band’s other co-songwriter, Austin Brown describes. “We didn’t want to make a poppy record, but we didn’t want to do something totally dark or super aggressive, either. Basically, something we hadn’t done before. We’ve never made a record that’s like this one,” he adds.
That’s how a song like “Violence,” the record’s second track, comes into fruition. A ‘70s funk bassline pairs with a vamped, scratchy guitar to form a musical backbone that’s torn apart as Savage yell-raps a thesis on the subject: “Violence is the fruit of unreached understanding that flower from the lips of scoundrels.” This is beat poetry tossed into a blender, a beverage spewed in the face of Nazism and impending global meltdown.
“Total Football” takes aim at America’s most jingoistic sport, playing on a guitar riff that’s distinctly Parquet: crunchy and edgy with enough slack to feel loose and freewheeling. Savage even gets overtly political, singing, “It is dishonest, nay, a sin/ To stand for any anthem that attempts to drown out the roar of oppression.” If his point wasn’t blatantly clear, he ends the song by screaming, “And fuck Tom Brady!” This is the sort of humor mixed with anger that both Brown and Savage were so keen on mixing into the fold when the band began working on Wide Awake!
The album also sounds sharper than anything Parquet Courts have released before, thanks in part to Danger Mouse’s efforts as producer, helping to hone in the slap-happy spirit of the group without taking away from the edge that propels their music forward. “Normalization” is a frenzy post-punk number, starting and stopping, scurrying around like a couple of squirrels fighting up a tree. “NYC Number” is a minute and a half of new-wave jitters, with Savage’s voice almost comically affected as he sings, “‘New York City Number’ isn’t a swan song.” While the band has focused its energy on more direct critiques and attacks on injustice, these little moments of sly self-reference remind us that Parquet Courts are still in on the joke.
“I think it was time to do something new with anger,” Savage says towards the end of our conversation. “It would have been ill-fitting in the current climate to have anger that was less formed and more generalized—gaseous angst. The climate called for names to be named,” he adds.
There’s a playfulness in spirit that’s always permeated Parquet Courts’ lyrics. While prior records mixed bookish references and poetic lyrics with ramshackle accompaniment, here, the lyrics are funnier, the jokes softer, the anger direct, and the music sharper. The quartet has spent their entire career preaching from the pulpit. On Wide Awake!, they join the masses and dance to keep from crying.
WIDE AWAKE! IS OUT NOW ON ROUGH TRADE RECORDS.