Dad rock gets political
“Collectivism and autonomy are not mutually exclusive.”
That's a line from the song "Total Football" which perfectly encapsulates the thematic concerns running throughout Parquet Court's sixth album, Wide Awake! The Brooklyn band; made up of vocalist/guitarist Andrew Savage, guitarist Austin Brown, bassist Sean Yeaton, and drummer Max Savage, have carved out a pretty sweet niche revolving around the anti-establishment sensibilities of punk and the sardonic weirdness of early 70's art rock. It should be noted that Wide Awake! was produced by Danger Mouse, and therefore sounds more polished than past material while still maintaining a wonky charm. The newfound sociopolitical "seriousness" as it were, is also something of a tease; both earnest and artificial, searing and absurdist. As a whole, Wide Awake! is a total blast; a party album about the numbing ills of modern life that can be cranked loud at a backyard barbecue.
The idea of a lo-fi post-punk outfit getting together with a producer like Danger Mouse (whose worked with huge acts like U2 The Red Hot Chili Peppers) might initially sound like a sellout move, but the truth is Parquet Courts have never been about fitting into a pre-conceived genre box. Maybe it's just the musical landscape we've found ourselves surrounded by in 2018, but there's something almost novel about a band employing guitars, bass, drums, and clever lyrics as their main selling point.
Again, going back to that tune "Total Football", and particularly that stellar line, one can clearly see the use of drunken sports anthems as a rallying cry for the plight of the working class zero. However, there's always been something slightly embarrassing about the visage of white men screaming via microphone about the plight of the oppressed, but Parquet Courts use that to their advantage; referencing Black Panthers, The Beatles, poets, and Italian singers before dropping a big diss on football star Tom Brady. The idea of yet another rich white man profiting from our collective need for patriotic entertainment is rife with satire; as is Savage's beat poetry rants on "Violence", which are positioned as defeatism before a haunted house-style organ and cartoon voices kick in. Meanwhile, "Before the Water Gets Too High" uses Sean Yeaton's funky bass lines as the main groove while Savage speaks in weathered tones over Max Savage's unflappable drumming. There's also alt-country ballads ("Mardi Gras Beads"), Jay Reatard-esque punk ("Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience"), synth-laden prog rock ("Back to Earth"), and even a little David Byrne homage with the dancey title track. Most impressively, Parquet Courts really diverge from their signature sound on songs like the children's choir-backed "Death Will Bring Change" and Elton John-influenced pop stomper "Tenderness".
Wide Awake! splits the difference between the working class anger of 2014's Sunbathing Animal and the more subdued tones of 2016's Human Performance. The push toward funk and Americana is a welcome one, as is this idea that Parquet Courts are maturing without sacrificing their integrity. In fact, retreating into yet another batch of rowdy post-punk anthems would have seemed, at this point in the band's trajectory, something of a letdown. Fears of an uber-producer takeover are also unfounded, as Danger Mouse's contributions seem relegated mostly to better production quality and a few instances verging on power pop. No, Parquet Courts are fully in command of their collective angst, political malaise, and danceable punk; culminating in the band's most cohesive, genre-hopping record yet. Again, if “Collectivism and autonomy are not mutually exclusive", then the sounds of Wide Awake! just might be the protest album from four dorky white guys we all need right now.