“Sunbathing Animal” by Parquet Courts (A-) 2014
On previous efforts, this band flirted with the garage-rock sounds of the 60s filtered through the slacker-punk attitude of Pavement. Here they dive headfirst into the blues, even going so far as to cover the old standard “Ducking And Dodging” with a machine-like intensity and added (updated?) lyrics. Even the hardcore throwback of the blistering title track adheres to a traditional blues pattern, and their synthesis of the old songform with their relatively more recent ideas about guitar texture (noisy) and rhythm (faster) makes for some of the most compelling rock and roll in recent memory. The lyrics are well-written as before, though they tend to be a little more of a downer this time, and “She’s Rolling” verges on self-indulgence. But elsewhere, the ballads match the strength of the rockers, with the hypnotic “Instant Disassembly” a highlight, and “Dear Ramona” proving that they’ve still got a sense of humor.
“I want to be as deep as the ocean!” Perry Farrell screeches at the climax of the stadium-rocking “Ocean Size”. Surely he’s being ironic – this album is just as shallow and stupid as the arena metal it parodies, but in this case that’s a compliment: it achieves that rare balance of being annoying in an endearing way. The title, however, seems a little less ironic; Farrell’s rampant hedonism fails to raise eyebrows and the song about rape won’t shock anyone who’s heard “Midnight Rambler”. Still, the better stuff gets by on Farrell’s raspy Robert Plant impersonation and a funkier-than-average rhythm section. And the great stuff gets by on the attention to detail: the acoustic intro of “Ocean Size”, the steel drums of “Jane Says” and the slow unfolding of the gloriously noisy “Summertime Rolls”.
Too often, anti-capitalist ideologies like communism are mired in theory and abstract descriptions of “the system”. I get that this stuff is important, but it doesn’t make for very exciting pop music, which is why this album is such a miracle: avoiding both the aforementioned abstract theory and the too-easy figurehead-bashing that’s all too common in punk, MC Boots Riley brings a human individuality to the tales of capitalist exploitation on this gem of a hip-hop album. “Breathing Apparatus” attacks the American health care system through a duet detailing a gunshot victim about to be cut off from life support. “Underdogs” pays tribute to the families struggling to get by on dead-end minimum-wage jobs. And “Me And Jesus The Pimp In A ‘79 Granada Last Night” (phew) plays as something of an allegory for the abuse of workers (particularly women) while maintaining a focus on its young protagonist’s perspective. Jay-Z-worthy funk beats (tell me “Cars & Shoes” wouldn’t be out of place on “Reasonable Doubt”) and a healthy sense of humour as heard on “The Repo Man Sings For You” and the George Washington-dissing “Piss On Your Grave” seal the deal. Musically and lyrically, a remarkably cohesive hip-hop album.