From start to finish, Parquet Courts’ nearly 40-minute effort is loaded with anxiety. It emerges as the group’s angriest work yet, but also serves as an album that shows the Parquet Courts aren’t content to traffic only in punk. Moments get a little funky, and the band even throws in an ambient-styled ballad via “Back to Earth,” which veers into reggae and country territory.
With two key songwriters—Austin Brown shares duties with A. Savage—it’s no surprise the set touches on multiple styles and tones. What impresses relates to how the band throws differing and conflicting genres at the wall and makes it all feel a part of the same loose, aggressive piece. Perhaps the consistency comes by way or the shaggy, unrefined guitars of Savage and Brown. Or maybe it’s the rhythm, courtesy of bassist Sean Yeaton and drummer Max Savage, that locks in tight like a puzzle. Wide Awaaaaake! knows a soundtrack to a 2018 protest march should revel in diversity.
Credit the band for making it all seem so much fun. Despite possessing a title fit for a weekend kegger, “Total Football” becomes a call to arms in which Savage’s raised-fits shouts (he and the band are “delighted to be anti-everything you were taught”) reflect a moment when political divides continue to impact every corner of American culture. Drums veer from a stomping march to a panic-induced rush, as if the group feels unsure it can match the pace of its vocalist. While “Total Football” may emphasize incensed emotions, “Before the Water Gets Too High” pursues a more thoughtful route. A laid-back, groove-focused bass and toy-like synth temper the seriousness of a song that tackles climate change, natural disasters, and class warfare.
Still, Parquet Courts seem intent on raising questions in the minds of the listener. The band takes on the problems of commitment—see the Western-influenced guitars of the wide-open “Mardi Gras Beads”—and elsewhere combats the numbness against daily horrors (the funky slam poetry of “Violence”). More intense, the unforgiving “NYC Observation” challenges how and why we all react to the homeless all the while it addresses how easy it is to fall into despair. “Freebird II,” on which keyboards slightly recall the Lynyrd Skynyrd classic (the connection really just pertains to the song’s name), wonders about our own place and whether any of us have the capacity to affect change. Thankfully, Parquet Courts don’t appear willing to give up the fight any time soon.
Wide Awaaaaake!’s sonic signature revolves around rhythmic exercises in lo-fi that one could argue feel suited to the ethos of the music. The only standout is the bass playing, which pierces the murk to a pleasing degree. The black vinyl pressing does the record no favors. It’s not flat, and noise, clicks, and pops consistently encroach during the songs. The flimsy jacket is nothing to write home about, either, but the Deluxe Collectors Edition includes a poster with illustrations credited to the band’s own A. Savage. It bumps the rating we call “Jacket” up a tick.
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