Review: Parquet Courts wake us up with Wide Awake!

 
ROUGH TRADE - 2018

ROUGH TRADE - 2018

Parquet Courts’ sixth full-length album, Wide Awake!, is possibly their best work yet. The band reached deep into their bag of tricks to dish out the politically-motivated, funk-infused lovechild of The Ramones, The Hives, and The Communist Manifesto to create my AOTY thus far. A. Savage’s vocals may be startling to some, and upon my first listen, I wasn’t initially a fan—but by the third or fourth, I was hooked.

The band diverged from their past and teamed up with Danger Mouse to produce the album. I want to give him credit where credit is due for his role in shaping the album. I think the tightness of the production allowed the album to flow seamlessly. Parquet Courts made the right choice in sourcing a producer who was aware of their roots while also adding his own funky flare; his hip-hop influences were evident on tracks like “Back to Earth.”

The Brooklyn quartet clearly spent a significant amount of time crafting their insightful, zany lyrics. Songs such as “Total Football” strike a nice balance between the two with lines like, “Are you put off by our footloose fluidity? / Have your hurt caucasian feelings left you so distraught?” Each track deals with specific topics such as labor unionization, gun violence, social awareness, and finding the silver linings in a complicated world. Four white men from Brooklyn aren’t necessarily the ideal vessel for delivering hot takes on social issues when the intersection of race, poverty, and gender serves as the crux of their music. That being said, Parquet Courts seem to acknowledge their privilege and place within the context of these issues.

The lyrics on Wide Awake! are complemented by a diverse set of musical compositions. The album’s final track, “Tenderness,” opens with a funky rhythm guitar alongside a catchy piano tune. Other tracks are dominated by bassist Sean Yeaton. “Total Football,” “Wide Awake,” and the apparent “Freebird” sequel, “Freebird II”—which also features a soothing, Lynyrd Skynyrd-like synth—showcase Yeaton’s talent, and was one of elements that drew me to the album.

“Violence” is stocked up on syncopation and a synth that could easily fit into a George Clinton song. The constant and sometimes violent (I know, I know) repetition drive home their frustration at the that depressingly routine nature of gun violence, mass shootings, and the blind search for a solution. “Before the Water Gets Too High” dives deep (let me know when you’ve had enough) into political corruption and the depth of its impact. Why do so many politicians get away with it for so long? Hint: they only do until the water gets too high.

The openers, “Total Football,” “Violence,” and “Before the Water Gets Too High,” have the most powerful lyrics which are then balanced out by the fourth track, “Mardi Gras Beads.” A. Savage passes vocal duties over to bandmate Austin Brown. His vocal delivery is mellow and soothing, and the words blend gracefully into the melody of a light hearted song.

Despite the overwhelmingly positive thoughts I have on Wide Awake! I still have some negative takes. Besides Savage’s vocals possibly turning off some listeners, this isn’t a great album to casually sit down and listen to. The lyrical content only briefly departs from serious topics — which isn’t a negative, but it doesn’t allow my blood pressure to settle down. If you’re someone who doesn’t pay much attention to lyrics you could effortlessly get through the entire album but I cannot. I often find myself pausing to think about specific lines and the context of their meanings.

“NYC Observation,” “Extinction,” and “Death Will Bring Change” are the only weak tracks and, unfortunately, they’re all back to back. They’re enjoyable tracks but compared to the rest they’re a bit dull. The fact that they’re all in a row makes arriving at the finale a little difficult.

I’m embarrassed to say it, but my two favorite tracks may just be the poppiest songs on the album: “Wide Awake” and “Tenderness.” The titular track is such a fun song, and is one of the few that can be listened to casually. However, while its lyrics are repetitive and simple, they  touch upon the difficulty of being socially aware. Parquet Courts also put on a fantastic performance of the song on The Ellen Show. I’ve watched it countless times, and I recommend you do the same.

I had to change my Spotify to private so as to not expose my addiction to “Tenderness,” a boisterous amalgamation of pop and funk sounds. Lines like, “I can’t count how many times I’ve been outdone by nihilism,” express the band’s frustration regarding those who don’t seem to care about critical issues. The final line provides an appropriate end to a complex and serious album — A. Savage is just begging for the luxury of feeling content in a world that stresses him out: “I need the fix of a little tenderness.”

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8.5 - Great

Top Tracks: Total Football, Almost Had to Start a Fight, Wide Awake, Tenderness

For Fans of: Politically-motivated, funk-infused indie rock

Pros: Brings awareness to difficult social and political issues, unique instrumentation with tight production

Cons: A. Savage’s vocal delivery may be unappealing to some; not great for casual listening