The debut album proper by Parquet Courts was something of an old-school word-of-mouth hit in 2013. Initially self-released back in 2012, it saw a more widespread release in January of last year through the What’s Your Rupture? label, and after beginning 2013 by headlining The Echo in their first-ever LA appearance (a show that I was more than a little impressed by at the time), they kicked off 2014 by headlining The Fonda and watching their audience grow exponentially with the attention. Now, on the verge of taking a big leap forwards, Parquet Courts has taken a surprising left turn.
Sunbathing Animal does not have the instant impact of its predecessor. It takes its time whereas Light Up Gold seemed to be in a constant sprint towards the finish line. Songs last as long as seven minutes, and many go for an almost-minimalist approach that can take time to reveal its charms. Those charms are eventually revealed, though, and while it’s hard to say whether this direction will lead the band to a leap in profile, I can confirm one thing: Parquet Courts got more interesting.
If their last album drew on a long tradition of New York punk, this album undoubtedly lives in the shadow of nineties slacker rock, although that genre name belies this band’s furious work ethic. It’s impossible to listen to the likes of “Dear Ramona” in particular without hearing the influence of Pavement. The difference is that Andrew Savage’s vocals always seem infused with a certain tension, whether sounding resigned as on the excellently languid “Instant Disassembly” or urgent as on the obvious early standout “Black and White,” which chugs along with a real rock and roll swagger.
Sunbathing Animal still exhibits strong echoes of Parquet Courts’ previous work — most evidently on the raucous title track, which rattles along at a frantic pace, then takes four minutes to get to its climax — but the surprises lie in the album’s quieter moments. “Bodies” makes for a surprisingly mid-paced opener, but it suggests an increased confidence in the material, while “Into The Garden” finishes things off with as close to a piano ballad as you’re ever likely to hear from these guys.
The lyrics retain that storytelling knack with outcast city characters making occasional appearances, but I get a sense that Parquet Courts is looking to grow beyond their adopted New York roots with Sunbathing Animal. The album includes hints of Americana, while the extra breathing room allows the group to take their cue from “Stoned And Starving,” the arguable highlight of their last album and a definite jumping off point for these longer songs. The odd Strokes-alike, such as the very brief “Vienna II,” still made the cut, but those songs are few and far between.
If anything, things become a little too relaxed, and Sunbathing Animal could probably have done with the editing of a song or two (“She’s Rollin” is the less successful of the two six-minute songs here for sure), but the album exhibits the sound of a band that is looking to be in it for the long haul rather than screaming for your attention right now. Kudos to them for avoiding any bandwagon jumping and instead trying to set out on their own new trail. Hopefully the audience they have deservedly built up will make that journey with them.
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