There’s an important distinction to make when discussing the music of the Parquet Courts: Scrappy does not mean slacker. While the band first rose to indie prominence with the deceptively lighthearted single “Stoned & Starving” on 2012’s Light Up Gold, the tune is less a statement of lazing about and more about capturing the post-recession blues. The Texas-via-New York quartet reflects a generation that graduated college and only found dead-end jobs. So, even as every Parquet Courts record, Wide Awaaaaake! included, possesses a somewhat rough and low-fi vibe, the fare here is taught, tension-filled punk rock in which the highly literate lyrics are leveled with the observational humor of a Don DeLillo novel. The recordings emphasize approachability, believability, and brevity. Think the speed of the Ramones coupled with jangle of the Feelies and, increasingly, the curt, angular keyboards of Wire. Here, working with producer Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, the collective doesn’t slicken up its sonics but puts a slightly heavier emphasis on rhythms—with the songs at times owning a dance beat that wouldn’t be out of place on the DFA Records roster.
Chief songwriter Andrew Savage, who credits himself as A. Savage, drops a revealing lyric late on the album: “Wanted to be needed so I fed my cat.” In the same song, “Extinction,” he notes, “lying to ourselves everyday becomes incredibly easy.” In the span of a couple of minutes, the Parquet Courts touch on personal existentialism with global anxiety. Essentially, the entire album walks that line, with the quartet feeling uneasy about not only the state of the world but its own lives. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, throw Wide Awaaaaake!on to realize such emotion is universal—and to know sometimes that simply making a housecat happy constitutes a win. Small victories.
Not being from the West Coast automatically meant the Parquet Courts wouldn’t be included on the soundtrack to Sorry to Bother You, a film that zeroes in on the people and sounds of Oakland. But it’s also a topical work that comes across as alternately frustrated, absurd, and hilarious—traits found here.
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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