For four consecutive years, Parquet Courts has released either an LP or a substantial EP, and for four consecutive years, the band has remained itself with a skewed focus and altered perspective. Where punk or post-punk or slacker rock might have described them before, the band seems to embrace its most obvious comparison points on Sunbathing Animal: Lou Reed and Stephen Malkmus.
Yeah, these two godfathers have always informed the band’s songwriting, but here they are unveiled muses. This can make the album comfortingly derivative at its best and its worst, meaning that a song like opener “Bodies Made Of” is so easy to embrace because it sounds like a Pavement song that it is hard not to be critical of how much it sounds like a Pavement song. (And yeah, it isn’t fair to cite them for ripping off a band that ripped off The Fall, but two wrongs don’t make a right.)
More noteworthy is the band’s admission of blues being an influence on this record and that isn’t hard to spot, even for the passing listener who might just notice the similarity between “Black and White” and Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” It is an effective spin on tradition that becomes a signature element to the album, seen in the absolute statements that feel like handcuffs on “Always Back in Town” and the seven-minute torture chamber for the masochistic that is “Instant Disassembly.”
But, the album’s purpose—to bind the listener in a cocoon of mundanity and predictability that we often dress up as a carefree youth, that becomes more hopeless with every day, like a tunnel whose entryway is wide and bright and whose end will surely come just a few more steps further ahead into the darkness—can borderline on tedium to endure. This is the sign of an effective concept, one whose conclusion, “Into the Garden,” sounds like a burnout, as if the loss of youth and opportunity and the idea of future were the inevitable endpoints for these once-unshakable youths. “Time waits over, behind your shoulder, and the onset of your wandering years, until you are not the same old fool you once took yourself for.”
So was the celebration of youth that Parquet Courts were previously selling a lie? Is growing up the realization that your youth was a waste? Yes or no, the fact that the album can force the pondering of these ideas both musically and lyrically is an accomplishment. The downside is it is an album that makes you feel regret and doom. Commendable, but not very enjoyable.