Undefined Collective

Album Review

Wide Awake! - Parquet Courts

4.0

Brian Pope

August 16, 2018

Not only is this one of the greatest post-punk albums of the 2010’s so far, but with its defiant, uncompromising personality, it’s also one of the most authentically punk albums to come out in a long time. Through vivid and hard-hitting sociopolitical commentary, crunchy and vibrant guitars, and an absurd sense of style, Parquet Courts have outdone themselves yet again with what is on basically all fronts their best album to date.
The record kicks off with the bombastic opener “Total Football”, which has these fantastic striking guitars, a prominent bassline, and lyrics that introduce the album’s overall theme of revolution against oppression by the powers that be. Andrew Savage shouts jeers about being “delighted to be anti-everything you’ve taught”, calls for unity to fight for reform, and criticizes the belief that collectivism and autonomy cannot coexist. It’s a fantastic way to open the record, and the NFL analogy is wonderfully apt as the league has recently banned kneeling for the national anthem, offering the choice of standing or staying in the locker room. This is a fantastic line to draw to the overall sentiment of the album, and the band do a great job of conveying that theme, even going as far as to end the track off with “Fuck Tom Brady!”
After that we dive right into arguably the best track on the album, “Violence”. Right off the bat, this track grooves as hard as most funk rock tracks, and it has this ridiculously infectious color and personality to it that is immediately ear-grabbing. The poetic and illuminating lyrics on this song present the absurdity of the fact that violence has become such an omnipresent, unavoidable issue in American society: “Allow me to ponder my role/in the pornographic spectacle of Black Death”. The bass and the keys interlace really tightly as well, and the track ends off with this weird G-Funk synth that I still can’t believe works as well as it does.

“Right off the bat, this track grooves as hard as most funk rock tracks, and it has this ridiculously infectious color and personality to it that is immediately ear-grabbing.”

“Almost Had To Start a Fight” is a great track as well, diving into a sort of DEVO-like new wave direction, maybe even some Elvis Costello with the ascending refrain and that great pub rock guitar lick. and “Freebird II” successfully implants this gorgeous image of free-spirited flight on the latter half with that soaring vocal and gliding bassline, yet stays ever-benched in the deadpan, sarcastic delivery of the lyrics. The coda really is angelic, and yet the track still has this melancholy to it that keeps the listener drawn to the song.
Another wonderful track on the album is “Normalization”, which might have one of the best lines on the whole album(there’s so many good ones though): “Do I pass the Turing test?” responded to in the background with “Do I think?”. What a brilliant line, the Turing test of course being the test of basically how machines can exhibit intelligent behavior similar to a human. It perfectly describes this socialized behavior of having to sacrifice parts of yourself or murdering your own humanity to “normalize”, a practice that one could say has in fact itself become normalized.
“Back To Earth” gives off massive The Doors and Joy Division vibes with its dreary pall, as does the ominous “Death Will Bring Change”. The latter track speaks to the idea that the imminent downfall of those in such oppressive and powerful positions will allow the new generation to reform as a modern society, creating a new framework that fits with their culture and ideologies. And then the title track is a real beauty too, with this off-kilter afrobeat inspired percussion with some polyrhythmic layered guitar work that backs what is basically the internal workings of the rebellion’s mind, alert and ready to take action. And yet on the surface it’s one of the more light, fun, and danceable tracks on the entire album.

“It has a wide variety of sounds, it’s well-executed and performed, and it’s simultaneously hilarious and terrifying with immense charisma and personality.”

Yeah, this record is really something special. It has a wide variety of sounds, it’s well-executed and performed, and it’s simultaneously hilarious and terrifying with immense charisma and personality. Danger Mouse does a fantastic job on the boards as well, adding in various arrangements that fit the absurd and cartoonish nature of the album. All that this record can really be dinged for is that a few cuts on here like “Before the Water” and “Back to Earth” just don’t hit as hard as they could have with a little more dynamic range, even if the latter does have a fantastic drum pattern. Also “NYC Observation” plays more like a forgettable interlude that could’ve been elevated with a more complex song structure, and “Mardi Gras Beads” is probably the most sloppily written song on the album, with some awkwardly timed vocals that sort of throw off the song’s groove. Other than that, this thing is basically gold front to back. Highly recommended for fans of this sound, and even those beyond.

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