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Shriek of the Week: Parquet Courts, “You’ve Got Me Wonderin Now”

February 5, 2014

Last week I explained the concept behind my new feature, Shriek of the Week, explaining that although it was based on the old Long Island based radio station 92.7 WLIR/WDRE feature in which listeners would call in and vote for their favorite new song of the week, my version would not ordinarily feature new music. And yet now, only in week two, I bring you new music.

parkay2I first heard of Brooklyn-based band Parquet Courts in the most unusual of places, The L Magazine. Every year the magazine picks their all-NYC “8 Bands You Need to Hear.” Typically it consists of bands you’ve never heard of or bands you maybe think you might have heard of but aren’t quite sure. In 2013 the list included Parquet Courts and, as Brooklyn Vegan noted, “Parquet Courts are without a doubt the band on the list.” Here’s what Lauren Beck wrote in L that convinced me to immediately pick up a copy of the band’s debut album, Light Up Gold:

Whatever direction rock music has taken in the past few years, it’s comforting to know that bands like Parquet Courts still exist, leading us to believe that even way off in the distant future, people will recognize that the right kind of jangly guitar sound is enough to make you get sloppy drunk (age permitting) or at least jump up and down a bunch. Andrew Savage, who served honorably in Brooklyn-via-Texas outfit Fergus & Geronimo, takes center stage on Light Up Gold, its relentlessly hooky guitar-bass-drum rush providing a perfect soundtrack to every Saturday night for anyone between the ages of 10 and 50.

Everyone who had an opinion on this band was overwhelmingly positive. The Guardian gave it 5 stars, saying, “Parquet Courts have produced a debut that’s both instantly addictive and lastingly rewarding: a smart, snappy concoction of worldly wisdom and garage-rock gratification,” and adding, “it’s an ultra-catchy, sharp-witted marvel throughout.” NME called it “one of the best debut albums you’ll hear all year.” Rolling Stone said, “The Brooklyn-via-Texas band makes near-perfect post-college rock, merging sharp, twitchy post-punk (Wire, The Fall, Gang of Four, The Feelies) and sweet, slovenly early-Nineties indie rock (Pavement, Sebadoh), while nailing all the right 24-or-so themes.” Spin said, “Parquet Courts’ over-the-top energy, speed, and succinctness makes the combination sound fresher than anything the original elements have managed in years.” So yes, I bought this album as soon as I could find it. The question is, where was everyone else? Why did it seem like despite the rave reviews and universality of the genre of music (for the most part, good old fashioned rock) Parquet Courts were flying under the radar?

I hoped this was a blip that would rectify itself when the band released its second album. I was prepared to wait patiently, listen to Light Up Gold over and over again, while album two was put together and hopefully supported by a rocking national tour. Instead the band went in a completely different direction, announcing the release of an EP (Tally All the Things That You Broke) less than  a year after their debut LP. Together with that announcement they also dropped the single from the EP, “You’ve Got Me Wonderin Now”. Unsurprisingly, this song is as good and as catchy as the best songs on Light Up Gold, such as sensational single “Stoned and Starving“.

Literally from the opening two notes of “You’ve Got Me Wonderin Now”, the first song on the EP, I knew that I was going to love this mini-offering from the band. Those opening notes are eerily reminiscent of the easily identifiable opening to the Jim Carroll song, “People Who Died“. The pace of the song and tone of the lyrics don’t stray too far from the Carroll song either, lending the entire 2 minutes and 24 seconds a depth that makes it feel like the song actually goes on for much longer. Additionally, despite the song’s brevity, it manages to include a toy flute element that most bands could not pull off but the DIY nature of this band makes sound real.

parkay1Just in case you thought that the band went with an EP instead of an LP because they only had one high quality song to build a record around, Parquet Courts proves you wrong right away with the next song, “Descend (The Way)”. Where You’ve Got Me Wonderin Now is a rock song, Descend is straight-up punk; this song would feel at home alongside the Ramones or the Sex Pistols. Once you’re feeling that energy, the band follows it up with the even more catchy “The More It Works”, a frantic, pulse-raising throwback to the indie post-punk music of the ’80s, when a simple lyric and a guitar riff was enough to carry a five-minute song. I defy anyone to listen to this song and not start singing it out loud – pulse racing – before it reaches its conclusion. Then comes the B side, which includes “Fall on Yr Face”, a weird, bluesy song and finally “He’s Seein Paths”, where the band shows the full range of its musical ideas. We’ve gone from rock to punk to college rock to … well, I don’t know what to call it. He’s Seein Paths is something entirely unexpected from the guitar rock band. The best way to describe the song, which comes in at a staggering long 7:38, is to say that if I didn’t know what artist it belonged to I would think that it was a Beck song. (The Beck sound was immediately apparent to me on the very first listen, but it feels good to know that both NME and Aquarium Drunkard agree.) Parquet Courts have thrown in everything but the kitchen sink (though you might be able to hear a kitchen sink on He’s Seein Paths) and it all comes out electric. There is absolutely no filler on this record.

From the EP back cover

From the EP back cover

All that and I haven’t even gotten to one of the best things about the EP – the cover art. The band uses the cover in a variety of ways – to rebrand themselves as the Parkay Quarts, to declare five “Self-Evident Truths” taken from each of the five songs of the EP (thus illustrating that, contrary to popular opinion about the band, their songs have meaning), to provide imagery of a burning home (maintaining their punk cred), and to include a drawing of a Pac-Man like ghost and other font tricks that give the whole thing a DIY feel. It’s hard to convey as much in a record album cover as Parquet Courts do here, and yet it doesn’t feel busy or cluttered.

If I have just one complaint then it’s this: By releasing this as an EP, the band still doesn’t get the commercial and mainstream public recognition that it so deserves. Critics universally fawn over Parquet Courts, but I wonder what it will take for them to break through the way another NYC-area guitar-driven band did over a decade ago. I suppose my other complaint is that I haven’t seen them live, though for this I have no one to blame by myself. (Parquet Courts played in Brooklyn just a few weeks ago, but I was not in town.) Maybe I should selfishly hope that they stay small until I get to see them in an intimate Brooklyn venue. Nah … go out and pick up this EP!

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Video: You’ve Got Me Wonderin Now

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