Sunbathing Animal, for everyone who went mental over Light Up Gold: it doesn’t cohere as well as its predecessor, in which all the songs flowed naturally and felt of a piece. Parquet Courts have been touring endlessly, and Sunbathing Animal often gives off the feel that the band has made songwriting less of a priority, and/or they had more than a few also-rans from the Light Up Gold sessions. Their 2013 EP, Tally All the Things That You Broke, was a mixed bag as well, but it had two of the most memorable songs of their career: “You’ve Got Me Wonderin’ Now” and “The More It Works.” If they’d been patient and held off until Sunbathing Animal‘s release to show those tracks the light of day, we might have a stronger album.
The rave-up songs, seemingly inspired by the punk energy of their live shows, don’t have as much personality as Light Up Gold, and hearken back to the lack of definition on their debut LP, American Specialties. Of the fast songs, “Vienna II” shows the most promise, taut and swaggering like Pink Flag-era Wire. It’s also only a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it length, at 1:02. Similarly, the instrumental “Up All Night” posits an alternate-universe Parquet Courts that grew up on Love Tractor and mid-period Feelies instead of early Pavement and 1970s downtown touchstones.
The longest songs on Sunbathing Animal happen to be the best. Live staple “She’s Rollin'” takes a while to set up, vamping on one chord until a second one blows the song wide open. It’s too well-coiled to be a jam, but it has enough space to let the dual guitars foxtrot around like Marquee Moon (opener “Bodies” does this too). For a band so readily identified by its lyrics (the oft-quoted “Stoned and Starving” is an example), the minimalist verbalizing of “She’s Rollin'” is an interesting tack. Sunbathing Animal‘s centerpiece, “Instant Disassembly,” is an epic on the order of ‘70s cowboy-pothead Rolling Thunder Dylan, grounded by a cool Velvets chug — a subway ride in construction-delay slo-mo.
“Duckin and Dodgin”, which appears late in the album, is a dark horse: it’s the one people may forget about since it’s immediately after “Instant Disassembly”. The structure of the spoken-word meter has shades of Sonic Youth’s beatnik-cum-tribal “Making the Nature Scene” but has more spiritual connectivity with John Doe’s barkier moments with X. Parquet Courts’ biggest musical signifier, as diverse as the sounds can be, is first-generation punk, and that’s what “Duckin and Dodgin” gives us — the speed and lean build of those early UK singles, triple-filtered through someone’s memories of Dylan busting through pop culture and language conventions in the haze of an amphetamine binge.
Though Parquet Courts may not yet be the masters of their craft, they’ve already proven their capacity for building strapping, askew song cycles. If they get their priorities straight, they can build another one on the next go round.
Parquet Courts – “Black And White” Music Video