Parquet Courts Lose Themselves to Dance on 'Sympathy for Life'
Published Oct 19, 2021For the majority of their career, Parquet Courts have found themselves settling into their imperial phase. Since blowing up upon the 2013 reissue of Light Up Gold, the Brooklyn band have released numerous highly celebrated albums, culminating in regular appearances on year-end (and even decade-end) lists.
On their latest full-length, the quartet tempt fate by shifting their sound, a move that has sunk so many of their indie rock forebears. Recorded pre-pandemic with producer Rodaidh McDonald (David Byrne, Hot Chip, the xx), Sympathy for Life is an album heavily influenced by (and indebted to) dance and club music, building an entire LP around the beats and rhythms their previous LP, 2018's Wide Awake!, flirted with. Throughout Sympathy for Life, Parquets Courts pull their grooves more holistically, chiselling songs from live jams that reportedly stretched to over 40 minutes. This allows numbers like punchy opener "Walking at a Downtown Pace" and chicken-scratch chanter "Zoom Out" to show off a more smoothed out and propulsive version of the band's often spontaneous-seeming style of songwriting.
But for an album built around an up-tempo blueprint, much of Sympathy for Life comes off dour and plodding. Unlike prior Parquet Courts albums, the band explicitly set out to write these songs in a very specific style and mode, which finds them shoehorning a forced dance rhythm into what is an otherwise wordy mess on "Application Apparatus" while building the gassed-out "Sympathy for Life" around an unfortunate lounge melody.
This doesn't mean that their downbeat tracks don't make an impression, as "Marathon of Anger" comes off as moody as its title suggests while "Trullo" features Tom Tom Club aural quirks that keep it cheeky and buoyant. Although the motorik, yearning "Black Widow Spider" and the dubby, jammy "Plant Life" present an esteemed new dimension to their craft, many of the other tracks fall flat. The wild synth-punk energy of "Homo Sapien" lays out an appealing blueprint for the band to follow, but it's as if they ran out of stream, leaving the listener with a few listless songs instead.
Sympathy for Life isn't a failure as much as it's just a step down from the indie rock podium. There's still a lot to admire for longtime Parquet Courts fans here, while the rest just requires some patience and a bit of unconditional love.