Following June’s critically acclaimed ‘Sunbathing Animal,’ the Brooklyn-based Parquet Courts surprised fans with their second release of the year, “Content Nausea.” Like last year’s EP ‘Tally All the Things That You Broke,’ the album is credited to the their alternate, phonetic moniker Parkay Quarts. This alternate name implies that listeners will find something a little different on this release than the band’s usual no-frills punk. “Tally All the Things” featured an experimental, anything-goes approach, its eclectic track list abounding with recorder solos, spoken word interludes, and Beastie Boys-esque rapping. This album is much in the same vein, with a little more heft, variety and careful curation of creative risks.
Only two of the four Parquet Courts regulars contribute to this album. As a result of this stripped-down lineup, Andrew Savage and Austin Brown are able to further explore their understated, punk-poet aesthetic. Always barely managing to find its footing on the edges of half-hearted idealism and absolute cynicism, the album features some of the band’s best lyrical content to date. The title track verges on spoken word as Savage rambles about the impact of technology in the modern world. This comes as no surprise, from a band that’s committed to doing things the old fashioned way. Savage exposes the undercurrents of violence and suffering in our world, an idea that crops up in the musical arrangements themselves. “Psycho Structures” rides a krautrock drum machine groove into complete dissolution, beaten to death at the hands of blaring and meaty synths.
Parquet Courts rose to fame on the strength of their breakneck, razor-thin punk, but Content Nausea is indebted to their more subtle americana influences. Two covers help fill out the tracklist. The album’s burlier punk sensibilities are tempered somewhat by the presence of tracks like a lived-in-sounding cover of Nancy Sinatra’s country-rock classic “These Boots.” Savage also pays tribute to Austin psych-rock veterans The 13th Floor Elevators with a cover of their 1967 song “Slide Machine”.
The opening track “Everyday It Starts” features an incredibly pryed-down rhythm section which backs Savage’s monotonous delivery of lyrics about anxiety and insomnia. The eventual break into guitar solo is a welcome one, a hot knife of clarity through the song’s near-overwhelming despondency. Themes of discomfort are explored throughout the album. Savage finds himself nauseated by the information overload of the digital age, declaring on “The Map” that he’s uncomfortable forty percent of the time. He can’t even get a minute of sleep.
Per usual, Parquet Courts deliver a well-organized, evenly paced record. Clocking in at 35 minutes, the band breaks things up with three synth-driven interludes. Like their previous efforts, Content Nausea is an easy front-to-back listen. What the band lacks from Max Savage and Sean Yeaton’s absence, Parquet Courts makes up for with smart guest features. Jef Brown of Jackie-O Motherf*****r plays the saxophone on a handful of tracks, including the Sinatra cover. It’s an addition that certainly was not expected, but works marvelously.
If “Sunbathing Animal” was the narrative of a disillusioned young man searching tirelessly for an identity not provided to him by others, “Content Nausea” tells the tale of the anxiety and uncertainty that inevitably arrives when coming into one’s own. Savage’s attitude ranges from sounding a call to arms against an increasingly depersonalized and over-commodified society, and simply sounding too exhausted to care. Even without their bandmates backing them up, Savage and Brown have created an impressive work, one bearing the marks of the relentless creativity that has become their signature.