Wide Awake! is Parquet Courts' fifth record and most groundbreaking to date, an album about independence and individuality, collectivity and communitarianism, but love is at its core. There's also a freshness here that's testament to the group's restless spirit. This may be attributed to the fact that it was produced by Brian Burton aka Danger Mouse, but it's also simply a triumph of the songwriting. The songs, written by Austin Brown and Andrew Savage, are filled with a traditional punk rock passion, as well as a lyrical tenderness, but are elevated by the dynamic rhythmic propulsion of Max Savage (drums) and Sean Yeaton (bass).
Reflecting a burgeoning confidence in the quartet's exploration of new ideas in a hi-fi context, ultimately the message contained in Wide Awake! is more complex. "In such a hateful era of culture, we stand in opposition to that – and to the nihilism used to cope with that – with ideas of passion and love," Austin Brown says. For Andrew Savage, it comes back to the deceptively complex goal of making people want to dance, powering the body for resistance through a combination of groove, joy, and indignation, "expressing anger constructively but without trying to accommodate anyone."
Our take: I’m not really sure what other punks out there think about Parquet Courts… they’re obviously a big and popular indie band (they even recently played on Ellen!), but I’ve always thought they were 100% legit. Every year or so there seems to be another new album, and it’s always great. It’s kind of like what I imagine it must have been like to follow the Fall in their early 80s heyday. Not only do you know you’re going to get a bunch of great music (and like the Fall, Parquet Courts are kind of “always different, always the same,” to paraphrase John Peel), but also I’m always particularly interested to hear the lyrics, as Parquet Courts are one of the few bands that I listen to who address contemporary topics in a way that I find intellectually stimulating. In fact, Parquet Courts strikes me as serious and interesting in a way that very, very few bands today are. They constantly push forward without being pretentious about it, and they seem to be comfortable enough in their own skin that they can pursue new ideas with a seasoned confidence that few rock bands in this day and age possess. So, what’s my take on the new album? Well, first I should say that I think that their last one, Human Performance, was a real high-water mark in their discography. That record seemed to open up new vistas in their sound and level them up as a band, both musically and lyrically. It hit me hard when it came out, and I’ve continued to revisit that record every few weeks since, with it growing to become one of my favorite records of the past several years. Where does a band go from there? Well, my initial impression is that on Wide Awake! Parquet Courts have decided to get weird. Sure, there’s plenty of the band’s sprightly post-punk here still, but they seem newly emboldened to incorporate new elements into their sound. They revisit the quasi-rap cadences that we heard a little of on Human Performance (and cop a little bit of vintage 90s Dr. Dre production vibes on “Violence”), do a total Tom Tom Club-style white funk freakout on the title track, and even inject some Warren Zevon-esque jaunty piano into the closing track, “Tenderness.” It’s a staggeringly eclectic album, and all the more impressive given that the band is so strong at playing all of this rather different music. And as is usual with Parquet Courts, the topical lyrics remain a highlight, particularly tracks like “Violence” (speaking of unexpected influences, I hear a lot of Gil-Scott Heron on that one) and the title track. Like all great art, regardless of medium, Parquet Courts tackle complicated subjects in a way that honors their complexity without reducing them to slogans or pithy witticisms, and they actually push me to see the world around me in a way that’s a little different than how I saw it before. So, like I said at the beginning, I have no idea if the punks are listening, but this is another fantastic Parquet Courts album. Here’s hoping that this band eventually has a discography that is as lengthy and as interesting as the Fall themselves.