Douglas Martin is still stoned and starving.
Of all the pieces I’ve combined
Still the cruelest mixture yet
Is the softness of the thawing dawn
And the harvest of regret
These are the final words of “Thawing Dawn,” the title and closing track of the debut solo album of Andrew Savage of Parquet Courts, his pen name for this release being the can’t-believe-it’s-not-
Thawing Dawn is a handful of different songs alternating between sounding weaved and spliced together. Savage sings of drinking and smoking beginning as social activities, only to find himself pulled through lakes of alcohol, with smoke coming out of him like an overworked tugboat, or rather, “a lonely lighthouse shining by the sea on a cliff, dragging in solitude.” There’s a loneliness articulated in the song, which lies a distance away from the local watering holes, living rooms full of friends, and blooming partnerships existing elsewhere on the record.
Like the time of day from which the title is derived, much of the album is appropriately ruminative and meditative, carrying the golden hue an eastward-facing room basks in at sunrise. It evokes the chill of a cold morning, evidenced by “Wild, Wild, Wild Horses,” where Savage requests a lover to take her dress off and jump between the blankets to hold him before she begins to shiver. It’s always coldest in those morning moments before a special someone snuggles up against you.
“Phantom Limbo” is a classic country shuffle about someone in his sights feeling like a local tavern, a home away from home, where, to borrow a phrase you might have heard before, everybody knows your name. It’s a song where people’s dreams don’t fit what’s going on in the waking world; one is too big while the other doesn’t meet the monolith of the other.
The drums on “Winter in the South” gallop while the saxophones wheeze and Savage sings, “Ample was the floor, sleeping in the clothes we wore/ That night we called it a bed.” Elsewhere, he spends two weeks on the lam (“Always Back in Town” indeed), his 31st birthday and the idea of spending the waking moments in bed every morning with the same person both looming in the distance.
Savage’s first solo jaunt isn’t incredibly far away in spirit from Parquet Courts. The instrumentation may be (in parts) smoother around the edges, but there is a grace and introspection existing in the solo work recalling the band it sprang a branch from. It’s the same man looking for something bearing the color of light up gold, only wearing a suit with loose threads, holding a bouquet of flowers with one wilted ever so slightly.
The third verse of “Ladies from Houston” features an Uncle Marty, which sounds a lot like a lot of people’s Uncle Marty: A burn mark on his skin, a fading Speedy Gonzales tattoo, his whereabouts somewhat unknown (“Either dead or in prison/ Or just gone but not missin’”). The rest of the song features a host of rolling images of characters in slow motion. There are the titular women visiting from Texas, speaking quietly with coffee mugs and loudly with wine glasses. There’s a full ring of keys rustling and jangling with every step. There are the pressures of responsibility and commitment, which sometimes makes us unduly snap at people. There’s the common sight of men’s room hieroglyphics.
As the instruments blare through the final verse of “What Do I Do?,” Savage half-screams, “If I forget my name, I’ll give myself a title/ And introduce myself as a familiar face.” With its squalling intervention cropping up on this elegant singer/songwriter album and coming home to roost, the song displays one of the lasting messages of the album: In the absence of something, there is always something else.
Even in its most discordant moments, Thawing Dawn is a document of elegance. The scuffs and dust and blaring hysteria aren’t at all removed from the stark beauty and unhurried pacing, the romance of the past and the unwritten future. Dawn brings the new day, which always inevitably makes us think about the days we’ve left behind.