After years refining their Americana punk sound into something laser sharp and often brilliant, Parquet Courts started messing with the formula. First came an EP with rapper Bun B in 2017, then a collaboration with Italian producer Daniele Luppi and Karen O on the tightly arranged and subtle Milano. Meanwhile, the Courts themselves were working with producer Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) on their most diverse album yet, Wide Awake! Songwriters A. Savage and Austin Brown took the opportunity to write a batch of songs that flipped between the traditional Parquet Courts sound and those that indulged their interests outside that tightly scripted sound. The tracks that hew to the usual rollicking, rolling punk formula, like the romping "Total Football," the ripping, double-sided rocker "Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience," and the super tight "Extinction," have all the energy the band has always displayed, with the tighter focus and precision that a Burton production usually brings. The rest of the album is all over the place as it jumps from vitriolic Beastie Boys-ish funk on "Violence," where Savage shreds his vocal chords as he tears modern society a new one; jangling, organ-led folk-rock on "Freebird II"; Liquid Liquid-esque dance punk (the title track); a gently rolling tune that sounds like a lost Warren Zevon gem ("tenderness"), to a batch of tracks that take on the Specials' "Ghost Town" from a variety of angles ("Mardi Gras Beads" melds it with some Shins-y melancholy, "Death Will Bring Change" adds a choir of kids singing the chorus, and "Back to Earth" only needs some trombone to actually be "Ghost Town"). It's a daring leap into the unknown for the band and for the most part it works, thanks to Burton's acumen behind the desk, the band's energy, and dedication to explore each tributary fully, Savage's elastic vocals and pointed lyrics, and maybe most importantly, the songs. No matter what they try, the hooks are sharp and memorable. This simple fact makes each experiment work well, and when they falter a little (like on the meandering blues-funk "Before the Water Gets Too High") it's still worth hearing. The larger question is whether the band needed to grow their sound to take on dance punk, spooky new wave, or classic rock; it's not like they were running out of steam with the old sound as the classic PC songs here clearly show. The answer may lie within each listener. Those who are open to hearing the band take on a variety of styles and bend them to their will should be very happy with Wide Awake! Those who want the band to crank out an album of just bitter, bopping punk may have to wait until next time.
Wide Awake! Review
by Tim Sendra