[1 April 2013]
For the woefully unemployed and perennially couch surfing, the term “slacker” is badge of shame slapped on by frustrated parents. For Pavement-worshipping music critics, it’s a catchall for a mix of loosey-goosey melodies; lo-fi recording; and crisp, jangly guitars. For Parquet Courts, it’s a sweeping worldview, and their debut record, Light Up Gold, is their manifesto. The Brooklyn-via-Texas band slings its verses like picket-line slogans: “There are no more summer lifeguard jobs”; “People die, I don’t care.” But ringleaders Austin Brown and Andrew Savage aren’t defeated men. They’re the kind of kids who were too smart to try in high school—they got stoned before class at the far corner of the parking lot because they realized that we’re all just “captive in this borrowed time” and even “Socrates died in the fucking gutter.” We all eat shit and die, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
While Parquet Court’s stuttering motorik drumming and tangles of scrawny guitar place Light Up Gold squarely in post-punk territory, the album finds greater common ground with their more slanted and enchanted forbearers. Like early Pavement, Guided by Voices, and a million other lotus-eaters before them, Savage and Brown are probably more concerned with coming up with new ideas than seeing old ones through; Light Up Gold hits with a frenzied dilettantism. Songs rev up, snap like boomerangs, and end as abruptly as they started. Eleven of the album’s 15 tracks clock in under the three-minute mark, and even the shortest ones are prone to fly off chasing tangents. Trading off lead vocal duties, Savage plays the bleary-eyed straight man to Brown’s manic fire-breather, but the pair often falls in line when the choruses come, chanting off their smart-aleck bong-rip wisdom in lockstep. As the frontmen wander off on wheeling and dealing guitar lines, Max Savage, Adam’s younger brother, grounds the mix with steady, utilitarian drumming. While his beats linger in the background, on an album where constancy is often in short supply, Savage the Younger stands as Light Up Gold‘s unsung hero.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a steady confidence, or a general apathy masquerading as one, to Light Up Gold—on its first track, Brown proclaims he’s a “Master of My Craft”, a fitting title for the throbbing slice of twitchy country-punk. While Brown makes it clear he’s taken New York to heart (“a minute of your time? Forget about it”), what exactly he’s master of isn’t so straightforward—the slacker life? Slacker rock? Not giving a damn, plain and simple? As “Master” dissolves into an angular guitar workout, the answer seems like it might be all three. The feedback has barely faded when Parquet Courts hops into album standout “Borrowed Time”, in which Savage is at his heavy-lidded, disaffected best, doing his finest Beckett-by-Brooklyn: “I remember the feeling of the museless existence / of the drunk, bored and listless / endless waiting for something that I knew wasn’t coming.”
But for all the band’s stoned ramblings and staunch commitment to indifference, Light Up Gold is a profoundly political album, even if Parquet Courts didn’t intend it to be so. Brown and Savage might be slackers by trade, but with an economy as far in the gutter as poor Socrates was and “no art museums left to guard” or “road-cone dispensing jobs”, the once-maligned slacker lifestyle is as much a political consequence as a choice. More and more, the term’s just a synonym for the young, frustrated, and disenfranchised, and Light Up Gold strikes a nerve as a result.
While using wry humor to deal with the pangs of the day-to-day, of finding gainful employment (“Careers in Combat”), going to the DMV (“Yr No Stoner”), or just finding some goddamn Swedish Fish (“Stoned and Starving”), Parquet Courts shines in their little moments of wide-eyed sincerity. They’re real kids tapping into some really screwed up times, coping with it the best way they know: through clouds of pot smoke and punk rock. Grow up and get serious? Forget about it.