Douglas Martin deletes stress like Motrin.
Sometimes being young and perpetually stoned offers an edge on writing about life. Sometimes it’s a lot more fun to be older and perpetually stoned (shout out to George Christopher). Being in your twenties and struggling to carve out a satisfying artistic existence between day jobs and blunts is fertile ground for exploring your own neuroses in a relateable way other people can relate to. Also, you’re probably more likely to say something hysterical when you’re high.
“Master of My Craft,” the opener of Parquet Courts’ sophomore gem Light Up Gold, blasts through three minutes and ten seconds of sarcastic overconfidence in a way that is funnier and more eloquent than many of their peers. The band cycles through high thread counts and hourly rates, capitalistic arrogance and apathy (“People die! I don’t care!”), and an already endlessly quotable (and quoted) bon mot — “Socrates died in the fucking gutter!” — to write insightful commentary on the idea of success.
Sardonic stoner-punks are nothing new in the 21st Century, but even upon the first push-through of “Master of My Craft,” with its almost-breakneck pace, twangy, off-center main riff, and blaring solo, it’s immediately apparent that Light Up Gold — originally released last year but reissued this month by What’s Your Rupture? (aka the label that handled the American release of both New Brigade and Royal Headache) — would be a master-class in stoner philosophy.
This is not to say this record is too profound to have a clear precedent. Musically, the songwriting duo of Austin Brown and Andrew Savage — the latter of Fergus and Geronimo, a band in which, if you’re like me, you’ve avoided by virtue of them calling themselves Fergus and Geronimo — follow a few punk- and indie-nerd signposts. Pink Flag-era Wire and Wowee Zowee-era Pavement are the obvious references, but there are also spiritual predecessors the Fall (the aforementioned Socrates line bears resemblance to something Mark E. Smith would shout) and stylistic cousins Tyvek (the most underheralded of contemporary smart-assed garage-punks).
If the medium all seems a little old-hat to you, then you’re not paying close enough attention to the message. Throughout Light Up Gold, Brown and Savage pay steadfast attention to their lyrics, the punk and first-wave indie backdrops serving as a wobbly ground for words as incisive as they are funny. There are A+ song titles like “Yonder is Closer to the Heart” and “Caster of Worthless Spells,” there’s an ode to North Dakota where the band hums to the tune of Canada’s snoring and observe the state’s various anti-meth murals.
And not only are they good at spinning words, but they make it clear that they’re studious readers, too: Just as David Foster Wallace is name-dropped in interviews, “Careers in Combat” owes a large debt to Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, listing the assortment of occupations your college degree can no longer get you, but hey, you can still be paid to pick up a gun and go to war for your country.
Going back to the constant stream of Pavement signifiers opens the band up to a band slightly off the beaten path who they (occasionally) shared a member with. As “N. Dakota” sounds like something from Pavement’s aforementioned 1995 masterpiece, it just as easily recalls a Stephen Malkmus-penned would-be classic from Silver Jews’ Starlite Walker (released just a year before). The lovely and lovelorn “No Ideas” could pass for something from the pen of David Berman, courtesy of its oblique and foggy-eyed romance (“Are we candles or are we wax?”). Take the vocals down an octave and you probably couldn’t even tell the difference.
With most of its roadside markers in a row, it’s that much more satisfying when Light Up Gold take a left turn from its influences. The five-minute “Stoned and Starving” — the album’s longest track by almost two full minutes — finds magazines being flipped through and the tough decisions in life (licorice versus roasted peanuts versus Swedish Fish) being weighed over an insistent motorik groove. Deciding whether or not you’re a Twizzlers or Red Vines family has rarely sounded as exciting.
The stoner-based humor of Parquet Courts has often been misinterpreted as sarcastic stupidity. It seems as though when a smart songwriter skirts over capital-S Serious subject matter, they’re charged with taking the piss or playing dumb; Parquet Courts have two smart songwriters and do neither of those things. They’re a band who captures small comedic moments at their highest level of impact and approaches quite a few large themes from angles lower than the point-of-view of their more highfalutin peers. Just because they’re a bunch of hilarious stoners doesn’t mean they lack wisdom.