Review: Parquet Courts expands its sound on ‘Wide Awake!’
“Wide Awake!” — the sixth album from the New York-based indie rock band Parquet Courts — is a frenzied mix of politically-conscious music, equally informed by both punk rock and funk. With help from pop producer Danger Mouse, the band has created its most varied studio effort yet, adding danceable beats and a broader production sound to its familiar art punk blueprint. But along with the refreshing musical tangents, the band also sacrifices some of its previous raw energy.
The album begins on a somewhat expected note with the song “Total Football,” a fast-paced guitar tune that is both anxious and precise. Like previous Parquet Courts songs, the track takes influence from a number of post-punk heavyweights such as Wire and Talking Heads.
Andrew Savage, the band’s guitarist, songwriter and vocalist, takes his usual approach to the lyrics. They’re intellectual and academic — not too far off from a college lecture or some heady literary fiction. He references the tactical soccer theory Total Football, and places it in a socio-political context: “Swapping parts and roles is not acting but rather emancipation from expectation / Collectivism and autonomy are not mutually exclusive.”
But from there the album takes a bit of a left turn sonically. “Violence,” the album’s second track, comes in with a funked-up bass line and features a Dr. Dre-style synthesizer underneath a down-pitched spoken word bit. Other tracks, such as “Back to Earth,” bring in a subtle dub influence with spaced-out echo and reverb.
The presence of producer Danger Mouse — who has worked with everyone from the Black Keys to A$AP Rocky — pushes Parquet Courts out of its comfort zone throughout this record. The album’s title track, “Wide Awake,” acts as a prime example with a groove unlike anything the band has released up to this point.
The song itself is not a misstep, though. Its busy percussion and funky guitar riffs are incredibly infectious and they feel like a natural progression for a band so influenced by the dancey punk acts of the past. But at times the music feels too clean and overproduced, especially with some of its studio tricks. The inclusion of a faux crowd in the mix, cheering like a live audience, can feel like a gimmick.
The overall musical direction is not what detracts from this album. It’s just the bad taste that comes along with a punk band being polished up a bit for the radio.
The good news is that this sound does not define the entire record. Songs like “Almost Had to Start a Fight / In And Out of Patience” and “Extinction” keep the band’s staccato notes and accelerated sound.
And it’s impossible not to mention the record’s overall lyrical themes, which come with their own sense of urgency. Savage seems more cued in here to the present moment than he has on past records, and he chooses to shout a lot of his words rather than sing them.
On “Violence,” he speaks about the normalization of tragedy in the United States — “Violence is daily life,” the entire band repeats in unison. The track “NYC Observation” revolves around the overwhelming presence of poverty in New York City. “You never learned, you never got it did ya? / How to glide past people sleeping on the sidewalk,” Savage sings.
The album closes with an upbeat number entitled “Tenderness.” It plays out like a satisfying ‘70s pop song but retains a certain hominess with an upright piano and Savage’s raspy voice. The hints of optimism in the lyrics make it a nice track to go out on.
“Wide Awake!” may have its flaws, but the good outweighs the bad. It not only proves that Parquet Courts is willing to go in new directions with its sound, but it demonstrates how hard it is for the band to come out with anything that’s less than solid.
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