You ever have a favorite band so geared to your tastes, so blatantly aimed at your pleasure zone, you wonder if they’re kidding? Or if you’re just weak and gullible and easy? Parquet Courts are that band for me. They have a new EP out this week, Tally All The Things That You Broke, rolling out all these tricks that sound way too easy – so easy it feels like cheating. They do 90 percent of what I want a guitar band to do and make it seem offensively simple. (Even though all the bands who keep failing at it prove how hard it is.) I’ve never had a favorite band that made me feel like such a dolt.
They do for Nineties indie rock what Pavement did for Eighties indie rock, simultaneously parodying and celebrating, tossing off songs that sum up other great bands. So just as Pavement’s “Zurich Is Stained” was the best Nikki Sudden song ever and “Loretta’s Scars” was the third-best Dinosaur Jr. song, “N. Dakota” is now the fifth-best song on Wowee Zowee, even though it’s not on Wowee Zowee and Pavement didn’t write it. I can’t tell you how much this irritates me.
These guys are totally brazen about their Nineties love buzz – a Guided By Voices riff here, a Perfect Disaster bassline here, loads of Silkworm and Helium and Polvo. And yeah, Pavement, right down to jokes about art-museum guard jobs. Onstage, Sean Yeaton does the Mark Ibold bass dance as expertly as Austin Brown does the Thurston Moore mop-toss. During their show in Brooklyn last week, Andrew Savage told a funny story about taking a blind date to a Sebadoh show. After the gig, she told him, “I don’t think it’s gonna work out.” You don’t say.
I spent six months trying not to like their album, Light Up Gold, just because it was so brilliant, it made me feel a little emotionally pressured. I’m not really looking for a favorite band right now – I’m kind of seeing other bands, you know? I’m not looking for anything serious. Give me some space here. And they go, “Fine, we’ll be over here doing a 12-minute version of ‘Stoned and Starving'” and I’m like, Really? I mean, Yeah, okay.
The best song on the new EP repeats the mantra “The more you use it, the more it works,” which sounds like a suspiciously wise sentiment, since wisdom is the last thing I go to indie rock for. But I guess that explains why their tricks are so effective. The more you use it, the more it works. Light Up Gold has the year’s funniest non-Yeezus lyrics, with liner notes to match: “M. Savage plays the drum(s). If you are in NYC he offers lessons. Ask a punk.” Their earlier album isn’t as fast, but I play that too. And the great “917-471-2855” compilation cassette of their friends’ bands, even though one of the bands on it is called Son of Salami.
All their songs have gotten even better live this year, but the already-unspeakably-awesome “Stoned and Starving” (“I was walking through Ridgewood, Queens/I was flipping through magazines”) has grown into a twin-guitar groove monster, inching into double-digit minutes. It’s become a guitar jam like the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray,” Television’s “Marquee Moon,” the Dream Syndicate’s “Halloween” or the Hold Steady’s “Killer Parties,” where you want to hear every version because they’re all special.
It’s weird to hear Parquet Courts breathe so much life into their Nineties tricks, because for those Nineties bands, the premise was that all the cool stuff had already been done. Rock & roll was a pile of used fireworks – all that was left to do was play around with the rubble. “We light the burnt match/And stick a flag on it,” as Pavement ranted in their bootleg classic “Circa 1762,” a song Parquet Courts surely know and admire, since they end Light Up Gold with “Picture of Health,” which is, well, the exact same song.
But stealing great shit from the past is the only thing that brings the past alive. (As Stetsasonic used to say, back when people complained about hip-hop sampling: “Tell the truth, James Brown was old/Till Eric and Rak came out with ‘I Got Soul.'”) And although The Fall’s Mark E. Smith was appalled at how Pavement jacked his style, Pavement made the old Fall songs sound fresh, just as Parquet Courts make Pavement an even better band than they already were, which I didn’t think was possible. How does music have the power to keep lighting up those burnt matches one more time? If you ever figure it out, let me know.