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Review: Parquet Courts – Wide Awake

By: 
Kevin Taghabon

November 28, 2018

With a deft lyrical hand and high energy, Parquet Courts' 2018 release Wide Awake! captures the insecurity of our moment in time. The New York City rock band is known for their sonic variety and DIY style, and have recorded six albums in seven years. The album approaches politics not from the closed heights of history and the academy, but in the common language of song and dance. "Rebels/ teachers/ strikers/ sweepers/ Better protected/ Whenever collected" sings vocalist A. Savage on the speedy opening track, "Total Football". And Wide Awake! is nothing if not fun. "What I wanted to do is give us and the audience an opportunity to have this dual release, joy, and anger. You can work things out through dancing," said Savage in an interview with FaceCulture.

The second track, "Violence", reveals much about the album's themes. Ferocious spoken-word lines evoke the energy of a militant labour preacher. "Riot is an unfinished grave that was dug to deposit undepleted anger/ Like barrels of uranium leaking into something sacred/ It is a word to use to delegitimize your unrest/ And to make your resistance into an overreaction." Here, Savage throws passive "resistance" into the trash heap. This is likely a jab at the "civility" rhetoric in media circles which fails to understand that the purpose of protest is disruption. Rage is legitimate.

The song also undoes the popular misunderstanding of what violence is. "Violence is daily life/ A promise, a pact that the world never kept." In rejecting that all violence is physical violence, Parquet Courts set their sights on the villainous forces that act on society. "Men who clean up streets named after those who fought/ For erasing the lives they now claim to protect/ What is an up and coming neighbourhood and where is it coming from?" "Violence" calls attention to these mundane moments which are, on second thought, absurd. Savage understands this, saying in an interview that "I would consider poverty a form of violence. You witness this so much...how do I react to this as an ethical person?"

Portions of the album feel like unearthed singles from '70s punk bands. Their general confusion and anger at the moment then feels right at home today. "Can someone tell me the reason?/ I'm trapped in the chaos dimension."Savage alluded to this in the interview with FaceCulture, feeling that the speed of information today make it impossible for people to emotionally process terrible events.

This sense of disorientation resonates across Wide Awake!. The comically named "Freebird II" opens with lines that make the listener ache. "I've learned how not to miss the age of tenderness/ That I am so lucky to have seen once." Nobody has the good fortune to choose when they are born. But knowing that there were better days, especially in the political context, means that better days can be made. "A delivery to now/ And I've never wondered how I came to be/ I feel free like you promised I'd be." The album itself ends on a note of hope in the bouncy "Tenderness", which begs to be danced to.

One of the more explicitly political songs is the funky "Before the Water Get Too High", which does a good job of painting city-bound climate disaster. The energy is low, but the imagery is clear to anyone who shouted into a pillow over the recent IPCC report. "Of the clock strikes midnight then/ What becomes of our demonstrations?/ To which fate have these gatherings fell?/ Which walls echo all the chants we yelled?"

The band zooms out to survey time in other moments. On "Tenderness", Savage sings, "It was not so long ago that the world was mostly slow/ The age of iron, steam and speed turned a roll into a stampede/ But we've come to increase the time between ticks." The clock-fixers here are creating extra time for more work. Power is recognized as the "cheap odor of plastic leaking fumes." Noxious chemical smells and gasoline evoke industry more than anything else today.

Parquet Courts explicitly set out to create a political record that did not come off as corny or disingenuous. On this, they have succeeded. There are too many political jabs as subtle lyrics to include in one review. The opening song "Total Football" sets the stage for rest of the album, and the closing lines there serve as Parquet Courts' call to action. "Collectivism and autonomy are not mutually exclusive/ Those who find discomfort in your goals of liberation will be issued no apology!/ And fuck Tom Brady!"

 

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