Parquet Courts – “Sunbathing Animal”

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “She’s Rolling” “Sunbathing Animal”

The men of Parquet Courts are growing older, but just in the sense that we all are. “Sunbathing Animal,” the second accessible full-length and third release from the band in barely a year and a half, shows hints at maturity. It’s a reluctant maturity, one of attempts at denial but eventual acceptance. The band, as they did on last year’s “Tally All the Things You Broke” EP, open up to more influences and more ideas. The always-terrific “Light Up Gold” mixed garage-rock and country influences, but was filled with a boundless youthful energy that is roped in and controlled here.

Parquet Courts seem to know that they can’t just keep playing hybrid country-punk forever. “Stoned and Starving” is one of the best songs in years, but at 5:12, it’s the only song on “Light Up Gold” that’s over 3:30. Of the 13 songs on “Sunbathing Animal,” five break that threshold, with two more only seconds away. The band is, in one way, slowing things down and introducing some more developed songwriting. “Bodies Made Of” starts the album on a deceiving, medium tempo. “Dear Ramona” follows a narrative and shows more mature songwriting. “She’s Rolling” goes past six minutes, and “Instant Disassembly” past seven, with the latter being a pseudo-ballad and the former ending in crazy, layered harmonicas.

But in another way, they’re not slowing things down at all. They’re still a punk band, and “Ducking & Dodging” shows its love for 8ths and 16ths. Its “vocals over a drum and soft guitar line” is one of the most garage-y rhythms in years. The title track provides a volume and energy blast after the slow-burning “She’s Rolling.” And there’s musical interludes, just as on “Light Up Gold.” “Vienna II” and “Up All Night” provide brief break-ups throughout the album. “Sunbathing Animal” is more drawn-out, and more expansive, but it packs as many punches as their previous works.

“Sunbathing Animal” pairs nicely with “Light Up Gold,” as a band exploring the width of their own sound. “Sunbathing Animal” is no better or worse than “Light Up Gold,” and it doesn’t immediately demand any comparisons. It’s a lot more structured, and the band is more in control of their energy. It’s still very youthful and tongue-in-cheek, still fun but serious. “Sunbathing Animal” is a distinctly different album for the band, but it’s still definitively Parquet Courts. And that should be enough of a reason alone to pick the album up.

If you like this, try: together PANGEA’s “Badillac,” a less exciting (but still agreeable) example of a garage-punk band expanding.

-By Andrew McNally

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Some Quick Reviews – “Other Albums”

Sometimes, I’ll listen to a new release and definitely feel ways about it, but I just can’t quite put them into words. So here’s some quick blast reviews because there’s been a number lately that have been worthy of praise but that I haven’t been able to come up with reviews of:

Swearin’ – “Surfing Strange” – B+:  It’s tough to call this album ‘punk,’ even in an era where the definition of the word differs person to person. It’s pretty, often soft and incredibly different from song to song. What it is, really, is great songwriting. The Crutchfield sisters (Allison, in this band, and Katie, the sole member of Waxahatachee) have yet to put out a remotely subpar album between them. Swearin’ is one of the best bands around today, so take note.

Haim – “Days Are Gone” – B+: As a whole, the album seems really repetitive. Every song sounds pretty similar. But when you listen to it track-by-track, you’ll realize that each song has a lot of time and effort on it, and that this trio of sisters are very talented songwriters and musicians. It almost sounds like music your parents like – and it probably is. But it’s catchy and original, give them your time.

The Naked and Famous – “In Rolling Waves” – B-:  “In Rolling Waves” isn’t a unique album, and it doesn’t try to be. It’s just a collection of largely good, dance songs. The album isn’t very memorable, but it’s easy to enjoy. “Hearts Like Ours” is one of my favorite songs of the year.

CHVRCHES – “The Bones Of What You Believe” – A-:  Much in the vain of the Naked and Famous, every song on this album is synth-driven and it all kind of sounds the same, but it’s an incredibly energetic album for something so catchy. Very great debut.

Tancred – “Tancred” – B-:  “Tancred” is a pretty great blending of emo, punk and folk influences. Everything sounds great on the album – it’s just all over a little too soon.

Best Coast – “Fade Away” – B: Being someone that’s not a big fan of the band, and given that it’s an EP, I couldn’t accurately say why I really enjoyed this release. But it’s just an entertaining listen, a good step for the band. Their songwriting has improved consistently, and they’re feeling comfortable as a weird, garage-rock/dream-pop mix.

Parquet Courts – “Tally All the Things That You Broke” – B+: This follow-up EP to their debut (which also came out this year – one of the best albums of the year) slows things down a bit and gets more detective. Even though it’s unexpected, it all works. Parquet Courts, a throwback garage band out of NYC, are a band I consider to be one of the best in American music today. This EP only bolsters that.

Chumped – “Chumped” – A-: It’s tough to stand out in pop-punk, but Chumped’s energetic and smart music make for a release much better than most of the schlock in the genre. It’s another great debut in an already pretty full year. Also, they’re great people. That always helps.

AFI – “Burials” – B-: I started writing a review for “Burials” the day it came out. It’s a few weeks later, sorry guys. What I had said so far was that AFI, for the first time in their career, sound like they have no barriers to conquer. So they’ve combined their 90’s hardcore punk with their ’00’s emo into what’s a largely entertaining album. It’s arena-rock ambitions are on an awful level similar to Muse and the Killers, but the band doesn’t always go there. When they’re just being themselves, it feels comfortable and zeitgeist-less, and it feels right. They stray away from that comfort zone too frequently, but it’s got all the gloom you expect from an AFI album, with a renewed energy.