Parquet Courts: Light Up Gold

[27 March 2013]

By Chris Conaton

This Brooklyn-based band of former Texans named after the floor on which the Boston Celtics play basketball released their debut album exclusively on cassette in 2011. Despite that willfully limiting strategy, the band found enough of an audience to put out a second record, Light Up Gold, in the summer of 2012, and now What’s Your Rupture has picked up the album and is giving it a more thorough release. The band’s jagged indie-rock sound is mixed with elements of punk and hints of Americana, and is tied together by vocalist Andrew Savage’s sardonic lyrics and oddball delivery.

The album opens with the upbeat one-two punch of “Master of My Craft” and “Borrowed Time.” The former finds Savage using a slurred spoken-word style reminiscent of the Jim Carroll Band’s classic “People Who Died”. His dismissive refrain “Thread count high / Commissions high / Hourly rates high / A minute of your time? / Forget about it!” echoes through the song over and over before finally giving way to a jaunty, jangly guitar solo that slides almost imperceptibly into “Borrowed Time”. This second song is a much catchier track that contrasts Savage’s spoken-word verses with an actual melodic chorus.

Third song “Donuts Only” finds Savage using a completely different vocal style, a high-pitched yelp that, along with a feedback-laden guitar riff, trends very close to punk. But 80 seconds later the song is over and Parquet Courts are into the mid-tempo “Yr No Stoner” and Savage is back to the slurred sarcasm of the album’s first track. Despite the strangeness of Savage’s various vocal deliveries, the songs on Light Up Gold are pretty sturdy. The rhythm section of drummer Max Savage and bassist Sean Yeaton keep the music grounded so that Savage can do whatever weird thing he wants with his voice, while guitarist Austin Brown splits his time between actual riffs and simple chord progressions.

This interplay is on full display on “Careers in Combat”, which, despite being just 68 seconds long, is one of the album’s more memorable tracks. Savage sardonically speaks of a world in which “There are no more art museums to guard” and “The lab is out of white lab coats / ‘Cause there are no more slides and microscopes / But there are still careers in combat, my son.” Meanwhile, Brown has a catchy little guitar melody going on in the background while Max Savage creates a beat that bounces around his whole drum kit.

Another example of Parquet Courts’ weird mixture of styles coming together is the relaxed “N Dakota”, which finds Savage musing about a trip through the titular state and the prairie desolation he found there. The fact that the song is a duet with Savage and either Brown or Yeaton gives it a different sound than most of the tracks here.

The thing about Savage, though, is that for all his vocal personality, he has a difficult time carrying a tune. This isn’t such a big deal on the tracks where he has a compelling lyrical idea or when the rest of the band has strong music to back him up. But it’s a problem when neither of these things are happening. And Parquet Courts doesn’t play hard enough or fast enough to really pull off the straight-up punk rock that would make Savage’s vocal deficiencies into a positive. On the plus side, most of these songs are so short (only one of the 15 tracks is longer than 3:20, and many are under two minutes), that the band is onto the next thing before you get sick of it. There’s enough that’s interesting and/or good about Light Up Gold to give it a solid recommendation, with the caveat that Savage’s voice is likely an acquired taste.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/168674-parquet-courts-light-up-gold/