Content Nausea sees Parquet Courts (Parkay Quarts?) continue their gradual evolution into Sonic Youth – for good and bad. On the one hand, they’ve rediscovered some of the formless groove that defines Sonic Youth and their own electrifying debut, Light Up Gold; on the other, they continue to grow self-indulgent and self-obsessed, staring into the abyss that is their apparently deep lyricism. At times it has a strange, mystic, almost Southern Gothic surrealism – a weirdly engaging kind of poetry that’s probably just as pretentious as everything else, but at least brave enough to be interesting. Jaded slackers saying they is jaded slackers is not deserving of spoken word sections. Maybe they should learn from Sonic Youth’s infamous NYC Ghosts & Flowers, notably rated a zero by Pitchfork, and stop trying to impress everyone with how anxiously insightful they can be from their sofa.
When Content Nausea, and Parkay Quarts, properly engages with their increasingly urban outlook, musically it leads to some wonderful oddities amidst the wash of loose guitars. Psycho Structures is one of several vaguely electronic interludes – it’s the closest to a song proper – and it’s here where the anxiety and nervousness of the lyrics comes through in a way that works; although it’s still very, very pretentious.
On the filler tracks that pad much of the album (an improvement on the schizophrenic, anti-form Sunbathing Album; a notch below the individually great cuts of Light Up Gold), they recapture some of the killer riffs that made them so instantly engaging before. They still lack the tightness and punch of before, but I increasingly get the sense that they won’t be making a return. An album made up of two minute explosions in some rural garage doesn’t sound as intelligent as seven minute sprawls on urban ennui from NY.
I don’t want to harp on about past glories, but damn if those rural scenes of Light Up Gold weren’t what made it great. That, and the music. It’s a shame then, that since they have pretty much ditched that angle.
Instead, the best we can get is Uncast Shadow Of A Southern Myth (what a title) – a brilliant, soothing return to form. It has the spaced-out groove of Instant Disassembly (the only track really worth any time off Sunbathing Animal) and that same sense of a dropping of the act. The relentless, cloying cynicism and solipsism that defines basically every other cut drops for half a dozen strung out minutes. If Parquet Courts want to be a band where they talk and some music happens somewhere in the distance then this is what they need to do. You need some damn riffs guys, you need beats that rumble rather than tumble, you need something to happen sometimes, and you need to at least try to sing.
Which brings me round to a tremendously ill-conceived cover of These Boots (Were Made For Walking). Vocally, it’s a car crash. I get that it’s meant to be, but God, it’s just awful. The basic Western feel of the music – the trumpets especially – is solid, but nothing close to what would be necessary to save this cover. If anything, the rudimentary chug of the music, although it could have worked on its own, just adds to the painfully amateurish feel of the whole song. And I’m pretty sure that was mostly intentional. It’s really distressing stuff, and on so many levels. The next track is called Insufferable.
It’s a shame since largely, and lyrical qualms aside, Content Nausea is a return to form, and a return to something essentially Parquet Courts (despite the name change). But then maybe the dodgy lyrics and pointedly tuneless music is Parquet Courts now. Maybe I should stop caring about them, and then write some poems about how jaded I am about jaded garage punk rockers, and then get my friends to play their guitar intermittently whilst I shout/sing my poetry. But, for all that, I haven’t given up on Parkay Quarts. Amidst all the navel-gazing and increasing affection for anything stodgy and slow, I can still see something there. There are threads to pull at, angles to explore. They’re a different band to the one I thought I was a fan of, but they could still be a good one. Content Nausea is an edging towards something better, even if it’s not all there itself.