Parquet Courts’ new record is called Wide Awake!, or WIDE AWAAAAAAKE! as it says on the album cover, which matters because this album is a loud cry of despair at the state of the world today. Almost every note, every second of this album is dripping with anger, an inchoate rage triggered by the Trump administration, of course. But the band has wider concerns as well.
You’d be a fool to think that all of America’s problems begin and end with Trump, and these brainy punks are no fools. The culture of greed and grotesque selfishness that that man unquestionably embodies lies deep-rooted in the nation’s, and indeed the world’s, collective consciousness. Capitalism is literally killing us: on “Before the Water Gets Too High”, A. Savage is smart enough to detail how our potential environmental doomsday is being made all the more likely by shameless profiteers, in a verse so brilliant it’s worth quoting in full: “Before the water gets too high/Add up the bribes you take/And know time can’t be bought/By the profits that you make/Before the water gets too high/To float the powers that be/Or is it someone else’s job/Until the rich are refugees?”
That not caring about the fate of the world, of being so appallingly selfish that personal profit comes above the entire human race, is, as Savage knows, an act of violence. So violence is all over the album, and Parquet Courts even include a track called “Violence”, in case you missed the point. Because subtlety is not particularly useful right now, and Savage is too frightened by his own inner violence to hide behind metaphors; he needs to exorcise it: “Savage is my name because savage is how I feel” he claims on “Violence”, and “Almost Had to Start a Fight” he later admits. He sounds dismayed yet bemused with his own aggression.
How do we get rid of this culture of violence that infects us all, and “tempts us to become lost in its darkness?” (another great line from “Violence”). Music is one possible answer: in amongst all the punky rage of the guitars and harsh electronics on Wide Awake! there are moments of sweetness, in particular the Kinks-like melody and Beatles-harmonies-through-a-blender that comprise the 60s pastiche “Mardi Gras Beads”. And in referencing a certain well-known classic on “Freebird II”, they merely tip the hat to the creators of a beautiful tune and announce the importance of the irresistible beauty of music to their own little tune. Meanwhile, on the last track they try a little “Tenderness” with some sunny piano and a chugging, repetitive guitar strum that massages its way into Savage’s soul and helps to ease the pain. A little.
As he’s well aware, music won’t do much to change the minds of the selfish profiteers who are most responsible for destroying the planet. Because they’re not listening. “You never listened to the music, did ya?” Savage complains about a man “living in proximity of a dollar trying to get ahead of the pack” on “NYC Observation”. These folk don’t care about trying a little tenderness, through the healing balm of music, which is a shame because it just might save themselves and all of us.
So Parquet Courts know that they’re preaching to the converted in the leftist punk anthems of Wide Awake! No banker is going to rethink their lives after listening to this, and the odds are extremely high that they never will listen to this. It’s music made for those who already hate the system.
But rather than get frustrated by this lack of reach and their inability to effect meaningful change, Savage and co. instead celebrate the unity and “wokeness” of its small yet committed fanbase. They boast of being “Wide Awake” repeatedly in the anthemic title track, which sets up a Funkadelic-style groove beneath crispy guitars and cowbells. The band are joyous in being immune to the endless torrents of bullshit that emanate from politicians and certain media sources on a daily basis. And they make the shouted tune simple because they want you to sing along, to feel joyous in your “wokeness” too. There is unity in critical thinking.
What’s more, the crowd that they appeal to on “Total Football”, their most transparent blast of anger (“fuck Tom Brady!”) crucially includes not just “authors” and “poets” but also “teachers”, “sweepers” and “workers”. Like any great punk band, they unapologetically represent the working human being as well as the thinking human being.
Their angular riffs and unusual compositions, with tempo changes and melodic quirkiness the norm, make it rather unlikely that the average working person will ever listen to their music. This is strictly music for music fanatics, not for the charts. But they employed mainstream-approved producer Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley, Gorillaz, The Black Keys, Red Hot Chili Peppers) for a reason. You’ve gotta love them for this gesture towards broadening their appeal, at the risk of annoying their hipster fans, even if they’ll never achieve widespread adulation.
And if you don’t love them for that, how about for this perfect motivational quip?
“Get love where you find it/It’s the only fist we have to fight with.”