By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
By Ray Cummings
By Nicholas Pell
The Brooklyn band makes the familiar sound new again
On that fateful, frigid night the Mayan apocalypse didn't happen, Brooklyn's Parquet Courts nonetheless decided to take matters into their own hands. "We quit our jobs today," vocalist and guitarist Andrew Savage announced from the stage at Polish community center and concert venue Warsaw, where they were opening for Fucked Up. "If this is our last night on earth, there's no way I'd rather spend it than with this group right here." Before they decided to pursue their industrious, sardonic post-art-punk revivalism full-time, Savage and bassist Sean Yeaton held respectable day jobs at a print gallery and as an online editor at Vice's Motherboard, respectively. Both were good jobs with understanding bosses, but eventually the two musicians decided to forsake stability for their art.
"I don't think many of us feel driven to get whatever job and career that may be out there," co-frontman and Michael Cera look-alike Austin Brown says over tortas at a taqueria across the street after the show. "For us, we'd prefer to take menial jobs and make our art. That idea doesn't translate to the generation previous to ours." Still, "I've never been more stressed out in my entire life," Yeaton confesses. "I don't care about [quitting my job] so much as the matter of facing all the pressures, like people who encourage you to go out there and get a degree, start your career, start a family, your actual work be damned because it doesn't matter. It matters what you have to show for yourself."
Parquet Courts might be onto something worth quitting for. The band's full-length debut, Light Up Gold (due January 15 via What's Your Rupture?), exercises stiff-legged guitars and articulated verses reminiscent of '70s/'80s groups Wire and Gang of Four. The acerbic lines Savage and Brown spit into the mic about everything from wandering through Queens bodegas ("Stoned and Starving") to nostalgia's relationship with mortality ("Borrowed Time") invoke the old-fashioned idea of punk as something more than music. In conversation, the band jumps fluidly between gun control policies, the quality of shows available on Netflix, and David Foster Wallace's addiction to television.
For Savage, the lyrics are primary. The melody usually comes after he and Brown, writers first and foremost, have already scrawled lines in a notebook. Loaded slant rhymes like "There are no more summer lifeguard jobs/There are no more art museums to guard/The lab is out of white lab coats/'Cause there are no more slides and microscopes/But there are still careers in combat, my son" read along the lines of Jonathan Richman, ending on a self-defeating exhalation of a guitar twang like the end of the Strokes' "The Modern Age."
Although their influences are obvious, Savage maintains their sound came together organically. "[We didn't] talk about what the concept for this band was or who we were trying to emulate. It was more like, we got together and played music in a room and jammed a lot." There was no Fall song, there was no New Order song. Instead, there were jagged two-chord, two-minute riffs like Light Up Gold's "Yr No Stoner," which Parquet Courts played at their first show at Brooklyn's Shea Stadium almost two years ago.
In a YouTube video from that performance, the original version is blanketed in eardrum-stripping feedback, nearly unlistenable. It's like watching a completely different band than the one playing clipped guitar lines and precisely timed yowls onstage that night at Warsaw, even while grappling with technical difficulties. According to Yeaton, "Yr No Stoner" was written when the band was "still having a chuckle at everything. It was like throwing paint at the walls. The Light Up Gold sessions were really when everything clicked with me."
They didn't really take themselves all that seriously until some time after Savage and his younger brother Max, Parquet Courts' drummer and a student at NYU, moved to New York from Texas. Savage Senior had met Brown in a record club at the University of North Texas and cut his teeth playing in Denton's tight-knit "boys' club" with psychedelic eclectics Fergus & Geronimo and jangly country throwbacks Teenage Cool Kids. But Parquet Courts aren't to be pigeonholed, even by themselves. "We're still in that phase of 'What do we sound like?'" Brown says. "Because I don't feel closer to it now than ever."
Parquet Courts perform at Death by Audio on January 11 with Priests.