Parquet Courts might sound like punk slackers, barely capable of playing their instruments let alone organizing actual songs, but on closer examination such a judgment wouldn’t be quite accurate. In an interview with the Washington Post, the band reveal an astute understanding of classical music and the blues, as well as an orchestral background for co-lead singer/guitarist Andrew Savage. Seemingly scrappy and thrown-together, Sunbathing Animal, the Brooklyn act’s third record, is full of intention. If Parquet Courts come across as The Modern Lovers under relationship strain or Pavement with a few cracks in the concrete, it’s only because that’s what they want to be.
It’s an odd aesthetic: feigned incompetence reaching toward sublimity. Parquet Courts’ lyrics attempt to appear as tossed off as the music, but the wit and breadth of their references unveil the band’s underlying intelligence. On the title track, Savage unloads aphorisms and opaque observations like a semi-automatic (“Faces change in shape to represent the same old beast;” “I cling to your perimeter as you float in their margins”). Yet it’s the steadier, more relaxed moments (“Instant Disassembly,” “Raw Milk”) where Parquet Courts reveal their charm. “Instant Disassembly,” wearily addressed to a “mamacita,” feels shockingly vulnerable, finding comfort in the “the white noise murmur of the AM band” where “the last classic rock band’s last solid record creeps in / A call out of the blue from an old, old friend.”
Although Sunbathing Animal can be nauseatingly frustrating to listen to, it has moments so clear and devastating, so brilliant and bizarre, it feels impossible to ignore the faintly glimpsed order behind the cluttered chaos. Parquet Courts are both terrible and wonderful, splattering paint on their canvas with frantic panache but not without structure or meaning. The band has definite ideas, some stronger than others. Beneath the off-key and the monotone, the squealing and the thrashing, is something grand. It just isn’t always easy to hear it.