Music in Review: “Sympathy for Life”

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The Winonan’s music reviewer rates “Sympathy for Life” 3/5 stars.

Matthew Drewry, Features Editor

For those who say rock music is dead, I’d caution you to look no further than Parquet Courts. Based out of New York and consisting of Andrew Savage, Austin Brown, Sean Yeaton, and Max Savage, Parquet Courts are continually finding new and unexplored corners and blends of the genre for the standard quartet lineup to reside.

Parquet Courts first gained widespread critical acclaim and media attention with
their 7th album “Wide Awake.” I was thrilled with the energetic, bustling post punk influenced sound of the album, eventually leading me to listen to their back catalog. The quartet has experimented with nearly every styled genre of rock music, from lo-fi abstract rock, to garage punk and art rock and post punk style.

“Sympathy for Life” debuts a new style for Parquet Courts with a distinctly funky and synth-driven style distinctly inspired by the band’s Brooklyn origins, and experimentation with noise and industrial styles.

The album opens with the lead single “Walking at a Downtown Pace” an ode to the return of nightlife in New York City after the disruption COVID-19. Driven by a lithe bassline, the track pulsates with a bustling nocturnal energy, accented by a distorted guitar riff. It feels nigh impossible to not move somehow to the sheer energy of the track.

The album follows largely the same blueprint for the remainder of its 45-minute runtime. Fantastic performances backed by a strong rhythm section, unique but not overbearing distortion and Savage’s fantastic vocal performance. Parquet Courts are clearly a dialed-in ensemble capable of pulling off nearly any style at nearly any tempo with ease.

But it is the vocal performances of Andrew Savage that first drew me to Parquet Courts, and one of the main reasons I continue to return. Savage’s voice has a great range with an iconic, versatile nuanced texture on recording I couldn’t hope to imitate if I tried. He’s one of those vocalists where the cigarettes have sanded his voice to a fine, beautiful burr.

Savage’s delivery can range from shouty and hoarse to soft and emotive while still delivering a strong presence on record. He sometimes errs a bit on the side of “talk singing” in a narrative style similar to Lou Reed. In my opinion, his delivery sets apart Parquet Courts from other rock ensembles performing today by the sheer strength of his vocals.

The focus of “Sympathy for Life” rests largely on the new experiment of loop driven, funk inspired rock tracks, which succeeds in some fashion, while failing the group in others. Tracks like “Plant Life” demonstrate a new style for the group, relying on old school drum loops, vocal samples and soft vocals to make a danceable industrial groove that channels Primal Scream’s “Screamadelica,” clearly demonstrating the album’s influence on the album as mentioned in previous interviews.

Some of the more experimental tracks this approach falls short such as on “Application/Apparatus” or “Trullo.” While they are impressive electronic hybrids, they lack a discernible groove to make up for them being lyrically underwritten. While it is entertaining to see Parquet Courts experiment with new styles, and the dance style showcases a talented rhythm section, it is disappointing to see the band’s focus fall away from the concise, powerful songwriting that made “Wide Awake!’ such a strong album.

As a whole, this record falls short of the preceding “Wide Awake” but is an impressive effort nonetheless and it’s worth checking out for both fans and new listeners of Parquet Courts. The highlights on this album are on par with any rock track released this year, and the lowlights are simply uneventful, not outwardly bad. I rate “Sympathy for Life” 3 of 5 stars.