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Parkay Quarts’ explore anxiety in the modern age

Punk-rockers bring energy and angst to their second LP of the year

Parquet Courts have had a busy year, first releasing the critically acclaimed “Sunbathing Animal” and now returning (with a cheekily subtle name change to Parkay Quarts) with another full-length, “Content Nausea.”

“Content nausea” presumably refers to the discomfort, physical or emotional, of being utterly inundated with content in this age of smartphones and constant Internet connectivity. A deep anxiety stemming from this sensation permeates the album.

On opening track “Everyday It Starts,” Andrew Savage and Austin Brown recite “and I never sleep but I go to bed and I never sleep.” The song is plodding yet jittery, with a chugging drum-and-bass line juxtaposed against manic guitar solos and an occasional high-pitched whining noise. From a simple, metronomic beginning, the song spirals into nearly-clashing guitar parts and rising feedback, like the musical equivalent of a slow mental breakdown.

The title track feels more like a call to arms, a constant drum roll and rapid-fire spoken lyrics. “Content, that’s what you call it/ An infant screaming in every room in your gut,” Savage shouts during a mid-song tirade delivered over a sea of dissonant feedback, music and lyrics blending to paint a vivid portrait of anger and angst.

The band continues to explore these themes, particularly on mid-album track “The Map.” The song sounds like it could be a Sonic Youth B-side, fuzzy and noisy with a rambling narrative which begins, “You will be uncomfortable 40 percent of the time throughout the days of adulthood.”

The arrangements are fairly basic but consistent with Parquet Courts’ sound on previous releases: punchy bass and basic drums with bold, sometimes spastic guitar parts. Their first album drew immediate comparisons to 90s lo-fi rock pioneers Pavement, but at this point they seem to have found a sound more their own — albeit one which retains clear influences from the likes of Sonic Youth, Joy Division, Butthole Surfers and, still, Pavement.

The album’s two cover songs have an almost laughable disparity in quality. On one end of the spectrum is the band’s take on 13th Floor Elevators’ “Slide Machine.” Roky Erickson’s vocals on the original are desperate and manic, the whole song is drenched in Southern gothic psychedelia. In 1998, Mark Lanegan brought to the song a worn-out, grim perspective, singing in an angry growl. Parkay Quarts’ version, on the other hand, is just pointless. Savage sounds bored and the arrangement has no inspiration or energy whatsoever. Lacking the original’s intensity, Lanegan’s quiet rage, or any original spark, the cover is a definite low point on the album.

On the other hand, the band’s take on Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” is wonderfully bizarre. Half-mumbled and half-screamed, featuring a brass section as backup, the song manages to just barely avoid excess. This idiosyncratic approach to a rather cheesy original song makes a great moment of levity on an otherwise moody record.

The album ends brilliantly with the six-minute “Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth.” Brooding vocals meet jangling rhythm guitar for a Dylanesque series of images and conversations, with gems like “Of droves of pilgrims at his doorway/ Of Reagan, Carter, Clinton, Gore/ Fortunes offered them, refused routinely/ This ain’t no damn auction house he swore.” The song swells to an end with overdriven guitars and Savage screaming the title until fadeout. Truly a high note to end on.

“Content Nausea” is a tight album, both thematically and in terms of composition. Other than the one ill-advised cover, the songs are almost entirely successful and the band continues to demonstrate stronger lyrical sensibilities. Filled with anxiety and anger alongside moments of powerful irony and humor, “Content Nausea” is an excellent piece of punk rock for the modern age. 


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