Album Review: Parquet Courts’ Sunbathing Animal

Douglas Markowitz

It takes a few listens to get into, but Parquet Courts’ latest album Sunbathing Animal is the musical ride of the summer. Photo courtesy Facebook
It takes a few listens to get into, but Parquet Courts’ latest album Sunbathing Animal released earlier this month is the musical ride of the summer. Photo courtesy Facebook

One of the most overlooked records of 2012 was Light Up Gold, the debut album from Brooklyn indie rock band Parquet Courts. Self-released on frontman Andrew Savage’s Dull Tools label in August, it won instant acclaim after What’s Your Rupture? reissued it in January of last year. With the thrilling one-two punch of “Master of My Craft” and “Borrowed Time” starting it out, it’s very easy to see why. Light Up Gold was the kind of revelatory lightning-in-a-jar experience that keeps a band in the music conversation even when buzz dies down. So for their second album, Sunbathing Animal, they’ve decided to take their signature slacker-rock style in some new directions.

Instead of retreading the same intense, Roman-candle vibe of Light Up Gold, Parquet Courts created a slow burner of an album–one that gets better with every drag. Appropriately, the new album’s two best songs are its longest–the grimy “She’s Rolling” and the drunken sing-along “Instant Disassembly.” They are two relaxing, feedback-heavy jams that capture the overall atmosphere of the album perfectly. Sandwiched between the two is the rollicking, hyperspeed title track and the short, post-punky interlude “Up All Night.” Such pacing is a bold choice, but one that works undeniably well. They tried to tell us they were “Stoned and Starving” on Light Up Gold, but now I actually believe them.

And the vocals are absolutely fantastic, especially on the immigration-debate riff “Ducking and Dodging,” with its especially long verses thrown into sharp relief by the basic instrumental backing. Andrew Savage plays a solo with his voice, and the words are like a twenty-minute Jimmy Page guitar break at a Zeppelin concert. The man’s delivery is ever-shifting, but always sounds a bit off-kilter. The verses on “Dear Ramona” epitomize this, as he never really “sings” in the conventional sense but constantly changes the pitch of his voice so it ebbs and flows like a hyperactive tide. I’d love to hear him recite “the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain” and see just what the hell he does with it.

As a result, or perhaps in spite of all this, Sunbathing Animal is a serious grower.  I admit I had serious reservations the first time I heard it. It wasn’t as engaging as Light Up Gold; it seemingly had too much filler, et cetera. But something made me return to it, and as a result it got better with every listen.Artists face a choice with every work: to experiment or to stick to what made them successful. Parquet Courts took the riskier option, and it paid off.  We’re no longer bounding across a rodeo on the back of a bull. We’re mellowed out in the back room of a hookah lounge, utterly smoked out of our heads. The first puff is a little uncomfortable, but you get used to it a little more every time you inhale, and by the third time around, you’re floating.