Slacker rock, a term synonymous with Parquet Courts’ (possibly) biggest influence, Stephen Malkmus’ Pavement, is now a term constantly thrown at the Brooklyn based quartet – to the point where the band have collected together a bunch of quotes describing their music as ‘slacker’ in a kind of ‘wall of fame’ on their website. Not that they’re keen on it, apparently. And who would be, if the word slacker in any way referred to their work ethic.
The band’s rate of creation would suggest otherwise, their conveyor belt of material being quite the opposite of slack. Last year’s (UK) release Light Up Gold did indeed light them up; having kept a low profile for a couple of years, with 2011’s American Specialties being so low key that many assumed Light Up Gold was their debut, they’re making up for it now. An EP also appeared last year – Tally All The Things That You Broke was seemingly a stepping stone between albums as Sunbathing Animal now grazes into view.
With Light Up Gold surprising everyone with its success, the obvious move would have been to release more of the same to capitalise, a part two in effect. But Sunbathing Animal does something else, surprising again with its change of direction. Sure, there are still plenty of simple, catchy guitar lines but this time they find themselves in altogether different surroundings as the band occasionally shift towards lengthier, repetitive Velvet Underground territory.
Whilst most tracks from their breakthrough were short bursts of brilliance, the majority of tracks here exceed three minutes. The most obvious Velvet Underground influenced effort lasts a whopping seven minutes – Instant Disassembly. It’s a slow trudge that chugs along to a constant three chord progression with one of those irritatingly infectious guitar lines present throughout before being joined by organ chords: it’s completely mesmerising. Then there’s the six and a half minute She’s Rolling, another slow, captivating repetitive plod, this time the slightly distorted guitars sounding so vibrant with electricity that they almost crackle before freeform harmonica joins the fray.
Main lyricist Andrew Savage prefers not to decipher lyrics for listeners, feeling it’s all part of the experience. He’s got a point, too; why explain what a song was written about when people can interpret their own meaning and make their own connections. Opener Bodies Made Of takes this further with its opening words: “Bodies made of…slugs ‘n guts,” he repeatedly sings. Or is it “sluts”? It’s hard to say. Either way, you’re already asking questions as to its meaning, ingeniously being sucked in from the off. Musically it’s a minimalist effort based around simple guitar riffing, far from the frantic pace that adorned much of Light Up Gold.
It’s not until the exhilarating title track that frenzied punk surfaces, but at almost four minutes it’s more of a frantic one chord guitaring race before it shifts through a couple more chords for the short chorus, creating a backdrop for improvised guitar and chanted vocals. But highlights are everywhere: the shorter, up tempo Black And White recreates more Velvet Underground repetition alongside chopping guitars, screeching laser-like sound effects and trademark guitar riff. What Color Is Blood is another VU like hypnotic groove whilst Up All Night fades in like an approaching locomotive but fades away again in under a minute to represent a teasing snippet that leaves you yearning for more.
Always Back In Town repeats the same four note riff over and over, worming its way inside your brain whilst chugging guitars provide a canvas, and staccato guitar notes punctuate Ducking And Diving for more minimalism alongside little percussion, broken by raucous bursts of energy.
Sunbathing Animal proves that Parquet Courts have, in abundance, an ability to capture their influences and regurgitate them in their own way. With prolificacy and eclecticism apparently evident in their make-up, the latter of which was probably not so visible for Light Up Gold, they’re certainly no one-trick pony. They’re unequivocally, without question, 100% no longer a promising band to watch out for. Instead they’re an essential band to love.