Parquet Courts | Wide Awake! Album Review
Fans of arty punk rock will be rewarded with the trove that is Parquet Courts' Wide Awake! Listeners can expect to hear a wide array of masterful musicianship, an impressive range of influences and a graceful air of originality, proving the Texas quartet are still upping the ante for expressive rock.
Wide Awake! might be the most artistically diverse record of 2018. With echoes of hardcore punk, beautifully manipulated funk and even touches of space rock, Parquet Courts have taken their mild experimentation ethic to both a concise and commercial level. Lurking behind the fantastic album cover are 13 refreshingly varied tracks; Wide Awake! literally has something for everyone.
As is the case for plenty of contemporary rock examples, many will throw influences around to pigeonhole as much as possible. Yes, the title track sounds remarkably like Talking Heads, not far at all from their 1983 masterpiece, Speaking In Tongues. But the impression given off by Talking Heads' love of world music is not utilised cheaply by Parquet Courts, nor is it repeated in lieu of originality. It would also be unwise not to mention alternative pioneers Wire and their impact on post punk, which is still evident here; 'Extinction' and the opener, 'Total Football' both showcase flickers of their 1977 release, Pink Flag.
Not only does Wide Awake! teem with the brilliance of punk's simplicity, it also challenges the idea of a punk rock record, perhaps noticed at best during the outro of 'Violence', a politically charged, lyric-spitting track which unfolds into a bizarre progressive piece not too dissimilar from The Doors' organ-based 'Light My Fire'; the Texas quartet are very aware of the 20th century greats and are careful not to taint or spoil the milestones they laid. Despite touches of progressive rock, several of the tracks could quite easily continue on for another two or three choruses, so nearly every song feels cut short, and that notion is bittersweet, for it is quickly realised that the way they're organised is what keeps the album's hectic nature alive.
Frontman Andrew Savage's voice goes from a tinny Julian Casablancas to a cool Phil Lynott, seemingly from track to track. This is surprisingly important as it prevents vocal limitations on pitch; where David Byrne sighs Talking Heads' 'Born Under Punches', Savage rasps 'NYC Observation' and sharply calls on 'Freebird II'. Gang vocals are not relied upon - although Savage himself has remarked that group vocals fondly remind him of hardcore punk, their appearances on the record are satisfyingly sparse and do not distract from the focal point of danceable rock.
Wide Awake! is pleasingly varied likely due to each track's distinguishability. Fluctuations from Southern, dusty guitars to gritty garage rock to spontaneous outbursts of controlled aggression make for a bold listen, with not a moment's hesitation to linger on absurdity - 'Mardi Gras Beads' is only four straw hats and canes away from being the work of a barbershop quartet, with the group's vocals reverberating in monotone fashion. 'Normalization' is perhaps the most experimental track on the record, and also the most successful in being so. The song follows traditional smirking punk before punchy riffs fuse into a liquid drum 'n' bass percussion after the first verse. If this was not odd enough, the track fades into a fizzling space rock finale ready to begin 'Back To Earth'. All of this happens in 2 minutes and 11 seconds. If it wasn't already evident enough, Wide Awake! defiantly refuses to be predictable, even on second listen.
Looking into their previous releases, a lot of the material isn't much of a departure. Take 'What Color Is Blood' or 'Vienna II' from Parquet Courts' 2014 release, Sunbathing Animal - these tracks would fit quite nicely on Wide Awake! with a little change in production. It seems that the group have matured and honed their knack at churning out listenable yet somewhat abstract rock tunes; a skill that should see them topping albums of the year charts paired with the album cover hopefully and deservedly featured on 'best album covers of all time' lists in years to come.
It is apparent that Parquet Courts are part of a wave of music that will be truly cherished and critically praised in years to come, just as much as 20th century arty acts like Roxy Music, XTC or Devo are now. They appear to be unable to do wrong, with each slight change in direction building on their weaknesses and highlighting their strengths, but when it comes down to it, it's their deliverance of artistically refined punk rock that cements them as modern indie cult heroes.