Counterbalance: Parquet Courts' 'Light Up Gold'
There are no more summer lifeguard jobs. There are no more art museums to guard. The lab is out of white lab coats, because there are no more slides and microscopes. But there always careers talking about this week's Counterbalance album.
Mendelsohn: At one point in my life I had an insane addiction to new music. I would go through five or more albums a week, searching for that next great record. Downloading, buying, or using my media connections to get my hands on anything I could. If I it wasn’t new music, I wasn’t interested. And then we took on the Great List and my listening habits did a complete 180. New music was replaced by “old” music as we systematically moved through the Great List. I’ve been doing a little to catch up, trying not to fall into my old habits. So when I started seeing pieces on Parquet Courts' new record, Sunbathing Animal, all of which mentioned the phenomenal quality of their previous record Light Up Gold, my interested was piqued. Old Mendelsohn would have just went out and picked up Sunbathing Animal, leaving Light Up Gold and their debut American Specialties for later, if ever. But if the Great List has taught me anything, it is to respect the organic development of music and appreciate where a band has been and where they could go.
So this week, we are listening to Parquet Courts' second album. I haven’t listened to their new album yet — It’s sitting on my desk, Klinger, just waiting like a Christmas present — or their first album that nobody talks about (probably for good reason?). But first, we have to talk about Light Up Gold.
Let me go on record and say this — I love this record. L.U.V. Love it. But before I go on and on about the things that make me love this record as much as I can love a record, I have one burning question. Are we as listeners, who are the end receivers of the pronouncements of the critical industrial complex, doomed to be fed recycled music first made by the Velvet Underground and then re-worked by Sonic Youth? This record is tailor-made for the hipster set, a rehash of the coolest guitar bands to ever walk the earth. Is this our fate? Will the next hot New York City band, 15 years from now, be recycling Parquet Courts' riffs?
Klinger: That's hard for me to say, mainly because I don't necessarily hear much that's being recycled in the way I think you mean it. It's true that my first thought as I was listening to Light Up Gold was that this record could have easily come out in 1986, perhaps on the SST label since I'm hearing a good bit of Minutemen (in both the skewed rhythms and the sardonic lyrics) and Meat Puppets (in the spare, stringy sound and vaguely Southwestern vibe). And that's a DNA strain that extends up through everything from, yes, Sonic Youth and the Velvet Underground, but also Modern Lovers and probably a few other bands I haven't quite put my finger on yet.
So maybe that answers your question somewhat. Rock has so many different flavors in the mix now that they're all blending together into one thick chunky stew. Light Up Gold puts enough spice in the stew to keep me coming back for more. But I'm curious as to why you seem so angsty about enjoying this record. Has the Counterbalance experiment led you to question the new albums you hear that much? Because I’d think that one go-through of "Stoned and Starving" should put your concerns to rest.
Mendelsohn: It’s not that Counterbalance has led me to question only new music, I now question all music. I don’t know, maybe I’m just being critical of the critics who choose the easy way out of using buzzwords and name-dropping cultural touchstones to write reviews without ever saying anything about the band or the music. I completely acknowledge the hypocrisy of that statement, that’s just the language we use to communicate with each other about music — mostly because music is such a subjective experience that it can be hard to quantify on its own without any outside reference points. And as you noted, there are a lot of reference points and each listener is going to make their own connections, which is why I hear the Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, and the Pixies and you hear Minutemen, Meat Puppets, and Modern Lovers. Which one of us is right? We both are. Unless you want to track down the band and ask for clarification.
Once I stop thinking about it so hard, it dawns on me the Parquet Courts are just doing what any band does. They picked up their instruments, tapped into the primal need for rhythm, and let loose with a wall of electrified sound. Guitar, bass, and drums can only be made to make so many different sounds. Overlap is inevitable. And once I hit that point, it's all gravy. I revel in the two minute burst of propulsive rock of “Borrowed Time” and “Light Up Gold II”, fall under the trance of the extended jam behind “Stoned and Starving”, and marvel at the off kilter beauty of “N. Dakota”.
Klinger: And make no mistake — just because we hear a group's influences in their music (or what we perceive as their influences, since I don't have any particular reason to believe that these guys have ever listened to the Minutemen) doesn't lessen our enjoyment of the music. If I know there's garbage in my dinner I'm not going to accuse the chef of ripping off Chipotle. I'm just going to scarf it all down like a dog. In fact, I might enjoy it more if I have a better sense of where it's coming from.
And maybe it's just my own experiences that make me hear the influences that I hear. Maybe it was the weather or the fact that I was wandering around my neighborhood while "Careers in Combat" was playing that made me feel like a teenager again, which in turn got me thinking about the mid-1980s and it just clicked with me that that's where Parquet Courts fit in my headspace. Who's to say? A band makes a record that comes from a personal place and it gets transmitted out into the world, where individuals pick it up and make it their own.
Mendelsohn: This is true. We are the recipients of the art and we make of it what we will. Extrapolation of the art can either be fun, like listening to Light Up Gold — or not so fun, like reading Leo Tolstoy. But then, what is stopping these musicians from stuffing this record with all of the influences we have mentioned? The way through music is now only a mouse click, a finger tap, a suggestion away. They have had more than enough time to sound the depths of indie rock, take in the work of Jonathan Richman and the label roster of SST, dissect and reconstitute the Velvet Underground and the Sonic Youth while treading the same streets those bands walked in their heyday.
I find Light Up Gold so intriguing due to the underlying intelligence and obscure references as much as the off kilter, flat-voiced assault of conventional rock 'n' roll. That Southwestern spice that shows through is a reflection of the band’s roots in Texas and its nice to see it remain such a strong ingredient, especially as the group takes on the mantle of a New York City band. I’m hoping to find more of the same and — dare I hope — improvement on near-perfection on their newest album Sunbathing Animal. It’s been a while since I’ve experienced this feeling of anticipation for a new album, Klinger. I can’t wait to go home.