ZurichIsStained

In the great network of weekly album releases, new works thrive or trip up on the hype afforded to them in the build-up. If there is one thing Parquet Courts' new album did not receive in the last week, it is hype. It had neither the long anticipation which less prolific groups had created – this is their sixth release in eight years – nor did previous work promise much in the way of exception or surprise.

Their music, harking back to a 1970s era of Talking Heads, has failed previously to achieve great novelty or relevance in the modern scene. A disclaimer, therefore, that expectations were not sky high in the build-up to Wide Awake!, overshadowed by eagerly anticipated, more glamorous, pieces.

On the back of this lack of expectation, Wide Awake! seems to be a reminder that Parquet Courts do not deserve to be overlooked. If their sound could be criticised for a lack of diversity in previous works, this album is a statement of the their capability to achieve variety, and, more importantly, to thrive as a result. The album sways from its opener, the Rolling-Stones-tinged punk rock 'Total Football', to episodes of funk and disco-lined tracks, as well as more alternative periods of reflection on 'Back to Earth' and 'Death Will Bring Change'.

In each of these sounds, lead singer Andrew Savage manages to find a home for his baleful, yet pugnacious, vocals. He shouts and rasps in the opening track in what is a bullish manifesto of a song, while there is a wistful discordance on more introspective tracks such as 'Mardi Gras Beads' and 'Freebird II'. This mixture of outward resoluteness with inward reflection is what prevents the album from becoming anything like tedious or one-paced. 

'Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience' is perhaps as close as the band can get to a classic punk rock song without blatant plagiarism, a track filled with shouty vocals about the desire to meet right-wing agitators with aggression. Similarly cringe-worthy is 'Normalization', a kind of call and response involving fairly random ways in which to challenge conformity. That these tracks are interwoven with more sensitive songs does somewhat save them; it creates the sense that this is a balanced and more complex band than before. 

If these songs are examples of unoriginal and dated attempts at punk rock, then it must be said that on tracks such as 'Violence' and 'Wide Awake', there is greater revision and subtlety to this genre. The former admits a responsibility for conforming to issues such as white privilege, while the title track is a reaction to inherent poverty on the streets of New York – there is a guilt within the lyrics that elevates much of this album to far more than rebellious punk rock. 


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More personal and sensitive issues such as the inescapability of love ('Mardi Gras Beads') add maturity to the album. 'Death Will Bring Change', meanwhile, tackles guitarist Austin Brown's journey in coping with the tragic death of his younger sister when he was twenty years old. In an album which questions societal conditions, these touches of personal reflection give great sensibility to the thoughts of Savage and Brown. 

It could be argued that punk rock has no place for introspection or guilt, that it should consist of an outward rejection of societal norms with little room for self-doubt. This album, though, is far more than that. Parquet Courts have excelled previous work, which in Savage's words have been criticised for "resorting to the punk idiom of anger". It is varied in musical style, if hardly ground-breaking, and its lyricism thrives off interesting social and deeply personal issues.

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