One of the most overlooked records of 2012 was Light Up Gold, the debut album from Brooklyn indie rock band Parquet Courts. Self-released on frontman Andrew Savage’s Dull Tools label in August, it won instant acclaim after What’s Your Rupture? reissued it in January of last year. With the thrilling one-two punch of “Master of My Craft” and “Borrowed Time” starting it out, it’s very easy to see why. Light Up Gold was the kind of revelatory lightning-in-a-jar experience that keeps a band in the music conversation even when buzz dies down. So for their second album, Sunbathing Animal, they’ve decided to take their signature slacker-rock style in some new directions.
Instead of retreading the same intense, Roman-candle vibe of Light Up Gold, Parquet Courts created a slow burner of an album–one that gets better with every drag. Appropriately, the new album’s two best songs are its longest–the grimy “She’s Rolling” and the drunken sing-along “Instant Disassembly.” They are two relaxing, feedback-heavy jams that capture the overall atmosphere of the album perfectly. Sandwiched between the two is the rollicking, hyperspeed title track and the short, post-punky interlude “Up All Night.” Such pacing is a bold choice, but one that works undeniably well. They tried to tell us they were “Stoned and Starving” on Light Up Gold, but now I actually believe them.
And the vocals are absolutely fantastic, especially on the immigration-debate riff “Ducking and Dodging,” with its especially long verses thrown into sharp relief by the basic instrumental backing. Andrew Savage plays a solo with his voice, and the words are like a twenty-minute Jimmy Page guitar break at a Zeppelin concert. The man’s delivery is ever-shifting, but always sounds a bit off-kilter. The verses on “Dear Ramona” epitomize this, as he never really “sings” in the conventional sense but constantly changes the pitch of his voice so it ebbs and flows like a hyperactive tide. I’d love to hear him recite “the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain” and see just what the hell he does with it.
As a result, or perhaps in spite of all this, Sunbathing Animal is a serious grower. I admit I had serious reservations the first time I heard it. It wasn’t as engaging as Light Up Gold; it seemingly had too much filler, et cetera. But something made me return to it, and as a result it got better with every listen.Artists face a choice with every work: to experiment or to stick to what made them successful. Parquet Courts took the riskier option, and it paid off. We’re no longer bounding across a rodeo on the back of a bull. We’re mellowed out in the back room of a hookah lounge, utterly smoked out of our heads. The first puff is a little uncomfortable, but you get used to it a little more every time you inhale, and by the third time around, you’re floating.