The year and change since the release of Parquet Courts monumental Light Up Gold is reflected in ways expected and not with Sunbathing Animal, its sharper, harder follow up. Following their quietly released 2011 debut American Specialties, Light Up Gold caught the ears of everyone paying even a little bit of attention, garnering glowing reviews across the board for its weird colors and raw energy, saturated punk songs that offered crystal clear lyrical snapshots of city life. It was immediately memorable, a vivid portrait of ragged days, listlessness, aimlessness and urgency, broadcast with the intimacy of hearing a stranger’s thoughts as you passed them on the street.
As it goes with these things, the band went on tour for a short eternity, spending most of 2013 on the road, their sound growing more direct in the process and their observations expanding beyond life at home. As more people tuned into the buzz surrounding Light Up Gold, the band encountered a common misconception that their aim was to somehow recapitulate the spirit of familiar 90s indie rock darlings. Coming from a background of not-quite-legal DIY show spaces and lawless basement gigs, being branded as an update to 90s slacker rock was confusing for the group, who were far more invested in creating lyrically complex statements and new ideas than being a continuation or resurgence of anything.
In part, Sunbathing Animal serves as a brick wall deflection to any previous misinterpretations of the band. More than a reactionary sprint in any particular musical direction, Parquet Courts sounds more like themselves than ever, but a more deliberate, aware and pinpoint accurate reading of the same American punk expansion they all but defined on Light Up Gold.
Constant touring was broken up by three recording sessions that would make up the new album, and the time spent in transit comes through in repeated lyrical themes of displacement, doubt and situational captivity. To be sure, Sunbathing Animal isn’t a record about hopelessness, as any sort of incarceration implies an understanding of freedom and peace of mind. Fleeting moments of bliss are also captured in the grooves of this album and extended at length as if to preserve them. The songwriting process began with lyrics, the band building the songs around the words, and the blaring isolation and dynamic emotions are mirrored in both. Pointed articulations of these ideas are heard as schizoid blues rants, shrill guitar leads, purposefully lengthy repetition and controlled explosions, reaching their peak on the blistering title track. A propulsive projection of how people might play the blues 300 years from now, the song is a roller coaster you can’t get off, moving far too fast and looping into eternity.
Much as Light Up Gold and the subsequent EP Tally All The Things That You Broke offered a uniquely tattered perspective on everyday city life, Sunbathing Animal applies the same layered thoughts and sprawling noise to more cerebral, inward-looking themes. While heightened in its heaviness and mania, the album also represents a huge leap forward in terms of songwriting and vision. Still rooted firmly in the unshackled exploration and bombastic playing of their earlier work, everything here is amplified in its lucidity and intent. The songs wander through threads of blurry brilliance, exhaustion and fury at the hilt of every note.