Music Reviews
Wide Awake!

Parquet Courts Wide Awake!

(Rough Trade) Buy it from Insound Rating - 9/10

Parquet Courts’ approach to their latest album has been surprisingly big league. The singles were as clean as they’ve ever made, they chose Danger Mouse to produce (U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers), and bizarrely even appeared on Ellen. For DIY underdogs, the band were making all the wrong noises ahead of release. On the record itself, though? Parquet Courts are making a ton of the right ones.

Bands proclaiming their latest release as their "Political Album" have become routine over the last two years, but few acts have anything almost as scathing and interesting as Wide Awake! The songwriting duo of Andrew Savage and Austin Brown don’t rely on a smart turn of phrase (although there’s an abundance of them). The difference between Parquet Courts from those bands comes from their knack of fully realizing the attitude of someone watching the world fall apart - the malaise, the anger, the despair.

For the concern about this being a sanitized or commercial move, the band quickly presents Violence - an astounding track that definitely wouldn’t have made the cut for daytime TV. It’s one of the most direct, political songs of their career, and it works almost as more of a monologue yelled over a 70’s funk-riff. Savage questions where he stands “in this pornographic spectacle of black death,” and the whiteness that dominates the police forces working on streets named after Confederate fighters. “It’s hard to get used to getting used to violence,” a voice says, bemoaning the cycle of “a cause, an effect, a rejoice, a regret”.

The song then flows almost without interruption to the omnichord of Before the Water Gets Too High, where that anger has already dissipated. Savage sounds resigned, realizing that the world’s ills will carry on being avoided until they affect the rich, and even then it’s probably too late. That sense of dejection continues throughout - on NYC Observation, he discusses seeing poverty across New York while repeating the things that guilty onlookers do to avoid making eye contact with homeless people on the street. Again, we walk by knowing there’s a problem, just silently hoping that it will be fixed, and by somebody else. Savage sounds almost helpless, as he can’t offer solutions. He can barely offer hope.

Despite the subject matter, there are those usual moments of Savage and Brown’s trademark knowing wit. There’s a song called Freebird II; on Normalization, Savage loses track of what to believe and what’s worth correcting when it comes to endless news cycle (“do I pass the Turing test? I don't think I want to know”); Wide Awake is a simple joy with Sean Yeaton’s funk-punk bass lines taking the lead. Maybe it was self-deprecating to put a song about [white] people who are desperate to show off their woke-ness slap-bang in the middle of the album. But, unlike the people they’re mocking, Parquet Courts go further than just repeating slogans and cliches.

Even away from the social commentary of the album, the more personal tracks from Brown fit into the album cohesively. Death Will Bring Change is about the search for acceptance in the wake of his sister’s death, but it’s not a comfortable one - now he’s been faced with mortality and there’s no way to turn back, forever unable to unwind. The reflective Back To Earth is again about the transience of life but strikes a more hopeful tone, calling for people to use love while we can: “the only fist we have to fight with.”

Perhaps it’s that Parquet Courts are so prolific that their albums are able to replicate a moment in time so well, whether that’s for the band personally or representing the current political climate. It makes perfect sense that so much of Wide Awake! sounds despondent and hopeless, but it’s also telling that it ends with Tenderness, a celebration of nostalgia and community winning out over nihilism. If the hardcore-inspired opener Total Football sounds like a rallying cry - once the piano stomp of the closer hits full flow and Savage’s voice is becoming weary, it feels like a fitting soundtrack to a haphazard, joyous chase for last orders.

That ability for them to effortlessly switch between their influences - whether that’s hardcore, Minutemen or Talking Heads - while also sounding unlike anyone else is why Parquet Courts remain one of the most interesting indie acts around. There’s a disagreement about whether this should be classed as their fourth, fifth or sixth album, but there’s little doubt that Wide Awake! is up there with their very best. [Believe the Hype]