Articulate state-of-the-union grumble from the NY punk quartet
Andy Hill
11:07 15th May 2018

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‘Americana’ is a weirdly loaded term nowadays, isn’t it? Like, there’s the Americana of Bruce Springsteen and massive fucking pickup trucks and college football. And now there’s this other kind of Americana. Y’know. The unhinged kind.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is an especially American-sounding record. Parquet Courts are a New York punk band, sure, but to appreciate their work you needn’t be well versed in their musical peers or up-to-speed on certain choice artistic touchstones, like, I dunno, Big Boys, Minutemen, The Roadblocks, or The Dicks.

Genuinely; I just made one of them up. Did you notice? Who cares.

Anyway, this record, their sixth, produced by Danger Mouse of all people, starts off a little lopsided to my mind. ‘Total Football’ sets out a vision, of sorts, that’s in keeping with the rest of the album but doesn’t quite do justice to the following work. “IT IS DISHONEST / NAY A SIN / TO STAND FOR ANY ANTHEM / THAT ATTEMPTS TO DROWN OUT THE ROAR OF OPPRESSION.”

Alright lads, chill out, we all hate Trump. Maybe try again, a smidge less on-the-nose? Sonically, as well, the opening number comes across a little too eager to hammer you over the head with we’re-a-punk-band-and-we’re-pissed-grrrr.

It gets better, luckily, straight away. Track two, ‘Violence’, articulately explores the inchoate rage which currently hovers over the US in a toxic pall, delivered with the mad-pastor gutsiness of Gil Scott Heron on that one hit he made about revolution. It’s that good.

Climate change gets a tune all to itself, which sounds like leftie-snowflake box ticking and perhaps is, but ‘Before The Water Gets Too High’ is a legitimately decent track, propelled – like so much on Wide Awake! – by Sean Yeaton’s slinky-as-fuck bassline. “Glass barely bends before it cracks” is a stonking metaphor, one of countless on this album. ‘Normalisation’ is another good’un, where our narrator (either Andrew Savage or Austin Brown, I don’t know, bite me) bemoans the collapse of civil discourse. But not in an everyone-in-a-red-baseball-cap-is-a-retard way. No, he’s second guessing himself, unsure of his next move when the national board is warped and the regional pieces are in flux. “Do I pass the Turing Test? / Do I think?”

Yeah, it’s woke. Woke AF. The title track, a joyously funky jam-room romp, says as much, with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek. “Mind so woke / Cos my brain is sharp / As a blade.”

There’s a lot of ideas going on here, but the band, probably helped a ton by hitmaker Danger Mouse, make some astute editorial decisions that ensure it’s never (quite) too much. For instance? About halfway through the record two featherlight punk numbers (‘Almost Had To Start A Fight’ and ‘In And Out Of Patience’) are conflated into a single, mercifully lean medley.

Later on, the dolorous tone of ‘Death Will Bring Change’ is leavened by the inspired addition of a children’s choir. Closing track, ‘Tenderness’, finishes on a high point – if not upbeat, at least cautiously optimistic concerning human warmth and empathy: “Like a flower blooming in your ear / Open your mouths, pollinate your peers.”

Maybe, then, just maybe, these angry bastard times can serve as a springboard to a new kind of Americana – still built on earnest 30-something men wearing plaid, but less preoccupied with rigs and wide open spaces, more with interrogating the dark side of its own nature via dense handwritten lyrics, probably in some manner of Moleskine journal. Maybe, just maybe, we should run with that.

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