Secret Meeting score: 85
by Joseph Purcell
For all their promise and hype, Texan natives, Parquet Courts, have never quite made the breakthrough that 2012’s Light Up Gold suggested. That is until now. Following 2016’s fifth album, Human Performance, comes Wide Awake! A rip snorting melting pot of influences that grabs your attention, forces the feet to move, the hips to groove and shakes you to attention right from the word go.
Frontman Andrew Savage, recently described the album to Pitchfork as an attempt to make a record that you can put on at parties. Assisting them in achieving their goals on Wide Awake! – and undoubtedly an influence on their progression – has been the mercurial enigma that is Brian Joseph Burton, otherwise known as Danger Mouse (U2, The Black Keys, Gorillaz, Beck). And his greatest achievement here is helping the Denton collective fuse a concoction of pop, punk, funk, 60s Americana and psychedelic influences to deliver a new focus and direction, while maintaining their hallmark of balls-out, frantic energy.
After The Fall-esque fury of opening track, Total Football, Wide Awake! ignites with the pulsating Violence – a track brought to life by Andrew Savage’s incessant vocal that’s part peak Losing My Edge by LCD Soundsystem interspersed with Talking Heads classic, Once in a Lifetime. Layered over a smooth bass line, searing guitars and a ghoulish voiceover sample, the song hauntingly nods to one of the band’s primary influences: the funk pioneers, Parliament. Described by the band as a reaction to the violence within American society, and the impact and desensitisation this has on its citizens, Savage rages with his mantra-like delivery – ‘Allow me to ponder the role I play, in this pornographic spectacle of black death, at once a solution and a problem… A cause, an effect, a rejoice, a regret, violence is daily life. A promise a pact that the world never kept, Violence is daily life’.
Before the Water Gets too High, with its achingly cool yet effortlessly simple groove, provides a total contrast from the ranting gasps of Violence, but sounds no less vital and fresh. This is perhaps where Danger Mouse’s paws are most evident. Ensnaring the listener with its simplicity, it builds around the unique anchoring tones of an omnichord, while tackling the prospect of a potential apocalyptic scenario that we constantly seek to distract ourselves from. While the dream-like soundscape of Mardi Gras Beads creates a glimpse into the more subtle side of Parquet Courts, providing a platform to showcase their versatility and again emphasise their growth as a collective.
The spite-fuelled social commentary of Almost Had to Start a Fight re-ignites the record’s punk element – ‘I’m tired of being polite, why am I searching for a reason? Trapped in a brutal invention, I’m in the chaos dimension!. it spits over thunderous drums, before building to a furious crescendo which evokes the surging sounds of The Stooges mixed with a Jonathan Richman style frenzy.
The album’s focal point, Freebird ll, is perhaps its greatest highlight. Thankfully, this is not a precursor to a full on Lynyrd Skynyrd dirge fest, but much more a terrific Room on Fire-esque period Strokes firecracker that Julian Casablancas wishes he could still produce. It’s punchy, cool and fresh sounding and oozes summer.
Normalization is a jerky two -minute and twelve seconds of punk fury that tackles the idea of normality. Speaking to NPR, Andrew Savage explained, ‘There is a struggle that we all have to go through right now and that is deciding which parts of the world around us are acceptable and which are not. What do we call normal? What do we call outrageous and unacceptable? It’s easier to let outrageous things become normal and sometimes it can be exhausting keeping things tidy, but this is just an important practice of mental health today. As is dancing, and you can use this centre big beat section to do just that’. And dancing is exactly what the title track, Wide Awake! is all about. This is party music, and with incessant bongo beats, bells and whistles, it is quite simply a samba imbued Rio carnival of a song. Its howling stomp of ‘I’m wide awake!’ chant delivers the mantra of a crazy, indoctrinated cult.
NYC Observation finds Parquet Courts again taking aim at the criminal injustices and social disparities of American society in 2018. Inspired by witnessing the poverty in New York and the crowds who pass by every day without even a glimpse, Andrew Savage sings – ‘Talk so loud you don’t hear other people’s problems, trying not to look, you’re not the person to solve them’. A track that eloquently, yet forcibly calls to account the growing and sickening nature of everyone being out for themselves, while bringing the government to account for compounding the issues they should be confronting.
Wide Awake! is a monumental step forward for Parquet Courts. Musically, it is their most expansive record to date and lyrically it is pertinently honed. In carefully channelling their influences, they have harnessed their energy and produced a record that simply effuses bitter joy.