Album: Parquet Courts – Sympathy for Life review

by Joseph Purcell

Fusing their signature breakneck tempo to the buzzsaw guitars of Television and the vocal adroitness of Talking Heads, Parquet Courts introduce us to another album of boundless possibilities

Following on from the party-fuelled soundtrack of 2018’s Wide Awake, Sympathy for Life finds the Texan foursome once more in fine form, not content or basking in acclaim, but evolving and on a slightly different yet still reassuringly bombastic new record. 

A change in production duties expectedly brings a different flavour to the band’s sound, moving away from the eclectic talents of Danger Mouse to the equally gifted John Parish (PJ Harvey, Eels) and Rodaidh McDonald (King Krule, David Byrne). Conceived in the period before the pandemic, Sympathy for Life is a representation of the new influences the band had absorbed themselves in. Ranging from the Sabbath-tinged fury of single Black Widow Spider, to the tranquil musings of closer Pulcinella, Parquet Courts have developed a set of songs that feel familiar yet excitingly fresh.

This assortment of sounds is typified exquisitely by the David Byrne-styled baritone delivery on the standout Marathon of Anger. Each line evolving, surpassed by the backing vocals yet cut precisely by the echoing chants ‘We’ve got the power’. The spoken-word, stripped back delivery hovering delightfully over electro stabs of singular keys and fierce eruptions of guitar. A spellbinding four minutes that rages between the nostalgic and the futuristic.

Despite the familiarity of opener Walking at a Downtown Pace’s energetic swagger or the flowing melodic americana of Just Shadows, the new ripples in Parquet Courts arsenal are the most enduring. The mesmeric séance-like hum of Plant Life is so far musically removed from early Parquet Courts output that it is startling. The desire to rip through the speaker – to throttle the listener and overwhelm – is less frequent, giving way to space and periods of musical brevity that elevate the band to new heights

The one-two punch of Application Apparatus into Homo Sapien is superb. Twisting and turning between the initial track’s krautrock, before melding into the raucous second is a captivating transition. Without a moment’s pause, Homo Sapien thunders into the listeners’ consciousness, with a vocal veering into Howlin Pelle Almqvist territory.

Sympathy For Life is a gripping next step for Parquet Courts. The familiarity of their best work is still there, and is crucial to the album’s flow. It now competes with an array of diverse new pathways though, but rather than becoming overwhelming or lacking in direction it does the very opposite.  An album to dance, to sing, to scream or to simply absorb, Sympathy For Life has it all.

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