While Brooklyn is indisputably at the heart of US rock’s indie vanguard, Parquet Courts would be at pains to stress that they have no part in any sort of scene or motion. The four-piece may have made Brooklyn their home, by way of their native Texas, but they are not a band to be defined by their environment and the connotations that go with it.
Parquet Courts are anti-stylised and ultra DIY. Following in a well established lineage of US punk bands committed to the cause of punk rock idealism, Parquet Courts’ rejection of synthetic modernity and embrace of ragged punk that can be both snotty, snarling, ragged and insanely clever has made them a prime candidate to be named the USA’s best new band.
But not all is new about them, for Parquet Courts represent something of a throwback. Their debut album, Light Up Gold, was originally released in 2012 in the USA, on front man Andrew Savage‘s own label. It was the product of years of hard work and gigs in dive bars and squats around Brooklyn, coupled with the strains and deadening deflation of trying to keep up jobs to put food on the table. Their rise has been staggering, and pleasingly organic. There was no (obviously) orchestrated hype campaign, no frantic stampedes to post the latest new song online. Instead, there was a collection of excellent punk rock songs and a band sure of their convictions and what punk rock means to them.
Throughout Light Up Gold it’s possible to piece together a patchwork of influences and references from across indie rock’s history. There is a meshing of the rhythmic invention of post punk bands like Wire and The Fall with the askewed and off kilter meanderings of Pavement coupled with The Strokes-like knack of a catchy guitar hook. The primitive foggy production gives it an added feeling of sounding casually knocked together, in keeping with their DIY ethos. Despite all these references, there is a freshness here that rejects any notion of pastiche. These songs are too great and the band too clever to engage merely in reverent aping of what’s gone before.
Songs like the rollicking opener Master Of My Craft, which flows seamlessly into Borrowed Time’s whip smart punk, are imbued with a sense of personality and charm which render them thrilling and compelling. You find yourself hanging on to every lyric delivered by the at once feverish and at other times droll voice of Andrew Savage. And the lyrics are one the most impressive aspects of the album. Full of non-sequiturs and oblique references, they constantly intrigue. N Dakota’s meandering verse is a brilliant case in point: “Feudal beginnings, amber wave looseness, post Nordic grinning tired and toothless.” Parquet Courts are a band who are unafraid to be both playfully dumb and eruditely witty and clever. It’s an intriguing contrast that runs throughout the record.
Many of the 15 songs here are extremely short with some running under 90 seconds. This helps to make the album a very easy listen; not for one second do you drift away. In many ways it is like a mini bite size version of Minutemen’s Double Nickels On The Dime, another American band who espoused DIY values and a sense of cultural anger, a stance that seems to be shared by Parquet Courts.
Despite the preponderance of short sharp thrills, the album’s highlights are two longer tracks that highlight the band’s musical dexterity and ability. Stoned + Starvin is perhaps the defining song of their infancy. A blunted monologue almost ambivalent in tone, it outlines the slacker malaise. Musically, it offers an interesting indication of how they could develop. The whole track careers off into an atonal drone of squalling feedback. Similarly diverse is final track Picture Of Health. Here, their fizzing punk rock is slowed down to a heavy rumbling lurch. On a record full of eminently quotable lyrics, the line of “I fell in debt to those country crooners, mourning lost love like Spanish funerals” is perhaps the best.
Light Up Gold is a record that harks back to a previous age both musically and ideologically. It’s a record that you are certain you have heard before when you listen to it for the first time. Yet rather than this being a negative, it is instead a sure fire sign of a great album. As the title of the opening song goes, Parquet Courts are swiftly becoming masters of their craft on an assured debut album brimming with unimpeachably great songs.