Reviews Parquet Courts Sunbathing Animal

Parquet Courts

Sunbathing Animal

Four years on in a career that’s seen them work on perfecting the brand of quirky 1990s alt rock of bands like the acclaimed Pavement and not-so-fondly-remembered Harvey Danger, Brooklyn’s Parquet Courts return with 2014’s Sunbathing Animal, an album that may be most surprising for the fact that it’s very nearly the equal of the band’s well-received debut, 2012’s Light Up Gold. I say that this fact is surprising because there’s not been much progress shown from one album to the next: the band is still making self-described (and appropriately labeled) “Americana Punk” which seems to point out, through lead singer and songwriter Andrew Savage’s lyrics, the absurdities of modern living. Since most of the songs here use established, generally familiar formulas, it’s remarkably easy for a listener to become comfortable with the album, but I think in the end, it’s Savage’s unique and sometimes offbeat viewpoints and bits of stoner wisdom that make this album as welcoming and appealing as it is.

Even if the end result is worthwhile though, I could easily see how some people might be persuaded to think that what we’re getting with Sunbathing Animal is simply a repeat of what was heard on the group’s previous release. The instrumental work on the sophomore album is never particularly flashy, rather, it comes across as being entirely practical. The brief, would-be love song “Dear Ramona,” with its barren chorus and (purposely?) sloppy vocals, perfectly illustrates the almost clumsy sort of approach seen throughout the album, though it’s often this exact, ragged quality that makes the tunes fun in the first place. “Vienna II” plays like discordant and angular classic punk, full of gnawing guitar jangle while “What Color is Blood,” “Black and White,” and perhaps especially “Always Back in Town” positively rip along to fast rhythms and catchy riffs. Several of the tracks here stand in as facsimiles of the nearly psychedelic, rollicking garage rock that inspired the punk and indie rock scenes in the first place. 

Comparatively lengthy “She’s Rollin” pops up midway through the album and marks the point where Sunbathing Animal starts chugging along and building momentum as it heads towards its conclusion. I could almost make an argument that the tracks coming before the album’s rip-roaring and intense title track, a repetitive but energetic punk assault, are somewhat mediocre, but from here on out, the record unleashes its best material. Following the short and sweet instrumental interlude “Up All Night,” Parquet Courts push straight into the longest song here: “Instant Disassembly,” a sort of modernized 1950s slow-dancing tune punctuated by aching vocals and decidedly unromantic lyrics. “Duckin and Dodgin” heads back into uptempo punk rock territory, interrupting the almost hypnotic, sparse verses with chainsaw guitar riffs during a noisy chorus. The duo of “Raw Milk” and “In the Garden,” two tracks which appear make up a single, larger piece of music that closes the album, initially begins with Savage speak-singing another story-like batch of lyrics over a sluggish instrumental base. The second of these tracks starts with a clutter of screechy noise and by the time morose Savage vocals rejoin the mix halfway through “In The Garden,” we’re right in the midst of a slightly depressive but somehow satisfying ending that seems to express exhaustion more than anything else. Savage sounds emotionally drained by this conclusion, and despite the fact that it's a bit odd that an album as agreeable as this ends on a downer, I found the ending to be appropriate, all things considered.

After a somewhat underwhelming first half in which the musicians seemed a bit lost in deciding what direction they wanted to go, I was glad that Sunbathing Animal not only got stronger as it went along, but actually seemed to find a sense of purpose by its conclusion. It’s not an especially cheerful album, but the pleasantly lazy vibes ensure that it’s nice to listen to from start to finish. Certainly, there’s not much about this band that could be labeled as being honestly original from a purely musical standpoint: most every song here is something that’s been heard before, especially if a listener is familiar with ‘90s alternative. Still, there’s a simple beauty to the way Parquet Courts have worked with and improved on some of those established formulas. Even with his very laid back, carefree delivery, Andrew Savage's eccentric lyrics demand that a listener pays attention to what's going on; indeed, one almost has to in order to get the most out of this music. Though I’m not sure that I'd label this second album as an honest-to-goodness improvement over Parquet Courts’ fine debut effort since it’s a hit or miss affair early on, a very strong and captivating second half means that Sunbathing Animal would be worthwhile both for fans or for those experiencing the band for the first time.

7.5 / 10Andy
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7.5 / 10

7.5 / 10

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