Trust us, Douglas Martin knows a thing or two about pseudonyms.
Let’s start this off by cutting to the chase: Aside from a slight personnel change, there is no significant difference between Parquet Courts and its similarly named satellite project. Andrew Savage and Austin Brown are still at the helm, and the songs they’ve written are pretty much identical in both sound and content. Even if Parkay Quarts were, on a sonic level, radically opposed to the band who released Dirty Shoes Album of the Year contender Sunbathing Animal a scant five months and change ago, it still doesn’t change the fact that lyrics are the calling card of both the Courts and the Quarts. It’s like an author who writes under a pseudonym; there’s the implied presentation of something different, but often their artistic voice is too distinctive to establish the notion that, hey, this really is something else.
That’s not by any means a detriment to what they are trying to do here on Content Nausea. If anything, it’s a compliment to their abilities as songwriters. Few bands today have a core aesthetic as strong as Parquet Courts’ underachiever/genius vibe. I’ll go out on a limb and say no collective currently playing guitar music right now is quite as smart, quite as irreverent, quite as close language-wise to the heights of modern literature.
But if we’re calling spades here, you could gather the excellent full-length Light Up Gold, the possibly-even-better American Specialties, the very-good-for-a-stopgap-EP Tally Up the Things That You Broke, and this year’s releases, throw them on shuffle, and someone unfamiliar with the band’s trajectory will likely be unable to successfully play a single round of Match the Song With Its Respective Album.
There’s this one often-cited Shakespeare line about roses that applies greatly here. I’m sure you’ve heard it at some point in your life.
Refreshingly, the principal members of Parquet Courts are the type of songwriters who balk at shameless retread. “Urban Ease” (along with its twin track “No Concept”) and “Kevlar Walls” are experimental-ish instrumentals that respectively mine low-budget hip-hop and bite-sized krautrock. “The Map” blends dissonant sounds with a drumbeat that pushes along like a circa-1970 heart-lung bypass machine and quickly rifled beat poetry that is moderately reminiscent of John Cale’s short story that guides the Velvet Underground classic “The Gift”. “Psycho Structures” is basically the Parquet Courts version of coldwave. Connecting less successfully is a straightforward cover of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’,” which both sonically and thematically feel like a red herring here. Maybe that’s just because I’m more of a “Bang Bang” guy.
The real standouts here come from when Brown and Savage dig sharply into what got them to the dance. There are few rock songs released in 2014 as compulsively hummable as “Pretty Machines,” and “Slide Machine” sounds like the 90’s in ways so many bands whose members were children during the Clinton administration could only achieve in their wildest dreams. Content Nausea’s title-track comes across as a punkier Dylan outtake, cribbing one of his famous vocal cadences in the song’s verses, with a character in the song repeating the indelible line, “I’m a bonfire of human bones!”
In spite of frequent assertions that this band sounds near-identical to the underachiever/geniuses from a generation ago, Pavement, I’ve said before I feel a more accurate comparison would be to Silver Jews. (Fellow Passion contributor Will Schube agrees.) “Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth” drives this point home. Using downtempo 1970’s-country-meets-first-
Initially, it’s easy to write off Content Nausea as a minor work in the canon of Parquet Courts, Parkay Quarts, Park-A-Quartz, or whatever play on words the band uses to call themselves. In terms of same-year releases, the album doesn’t quite measure up to Sunbathing Animal the same way, say, Thee Oh Sees’ Dog Poison did to Help. But this second album in a banner 365 for Andrew Savage and Austin Brown as a songwriting duo turns out to be a slow-burner after multiple listens, revealing its musical adventurousness and lyrical brilliance without an excessive amount of fanfare. In the idea of them sort of contributing to the modern problem of having too much content to sift through, it seems as though an organic engagement is the best way to bask in the band’s charms. The alias doesn’t matter quite as much as the constitution.