With a list of influences worn less on their sleeve than waved high above their head, it would be easy to dismiss Parquet Courts’ brand of lo-fi punk for an unwavering tone and lack of originality. But it’s a mistake to conflate echoes of the past in their music for an absence of inventiveness.
So while they owe an undeniable debt to the likes of Pavement and The Velvet Underground, pigeonholing them as mere copycats would be to ignore the subtle evolutionary tweaks they’ve made since their 2011 debut American Specialities. That album spoke with a discordant energy, which became even more evident in their lauded sophomore effort Light Up Gold; in turn - with only four songs that broke the three minute mark - feeding into the loose, expressive meanderings of their most recent EP Tally All The Things That You Broke. Each successive release refining the band’s deceptively complex sonic palette and whip smart lyricism.
Sunbathing Animal is equally progressive, but this time it comes from the band’s mastery in stylistic shifts rather than any great surprises in tone; the duality of their sound bonded together in one cohesive package and best exemplified in two of the singles they’ve released. The first “Sunbathing Animal” bursts forth with taut ferocity, an explosion of hardcore which remains at a rolling boil for almost four minutes, very occasionally threatening to overwhelm vocalist Andrew Savage; his breathless intonations rushing over cacophonous guitars and a ceaseless metronomic beat. While their latest “Instant Disassembly” - which is separated here from the former by short instrumental “Up All Night” - is a trip into woozy exhaustion; “Don’t beseech me for the answers you seek/I kept explaining that I was too tired to continue to speak”. Savage’s insouciant pleas going unanswered, a haze of undulating hooks and an infectious melody chugging along unhurried for over seven minutes.
It’s this bolder sonic narrative that continues across the album as the band veer skilfully between the considered balladry of tracks such as “Dear Ramona” and “She’s Rolling”. Both snaking along at a languid pace, the former a sweet and idle lament about the aloof “hypnosis poet” of the title, the latter a more uneasy stomp that ends in woozy malaise; harmonicas and guitars intertwining in sonic carnage. Although when they do raise the tempo many of the songs shun the incendiary moments you might have expected from Light Up Gold in favour of the intense focus that was hinted at on last years EP. “What Colour Is Blood” shuddering with a glam rock rumble and the briefest of feedback laden solos, while “Always Back In Town” rattles along with a deliriously choppy beat and a sneering choral accompaniment from the band.
“Ducking And Dodging” another uptempo number of raucous punk brio - all driving percussion and thrusting chords - also highlights new ways in which Savage is expressing himself. The broader fears of success explored in lines like; “I cannot be be free/The concert stage/The velvet cage/The glass perimeter of me” he sings. Which, for a band who’s lyrics have often felt character driven, feels refreshingly confessional. And it’s this existential angst which is explored further in tracks such as “Black and White”, which talks about the conflicts a life of solitude can bring over one of notoriety (“How does writing letters from the lonely margins feel when there’s no hair on my head”). While penultimate track, “Raw Milk” is an emotionally charged drawl about the innate decompression of returning home, Savage lowly intoning fears of displacement with the line; “I won’t see you for some time”, a stoned riff swirling around his words before drifting off into the aether.
While it might not be world’s away from its predecessors or as brain-shudderingly immediate, Sunbathing Animal - with its musical acuity, crisp production and stirrings of emotional depth - is a superior follow-up that improves with every listen. It feels like Parquet Courts have been working towards this for a while now, sharpening their sensibilities with every note they’ve played in the last few years; where they go next is anyone’s guess, but for now just take the time to bask in their warm glow.