Concert preview: Brooklyn quartet Parquet Courts carries the torch for indie rock

By Columbus Alive
From the June 20, 2013 edition

You don’t see many indie rock breakout stars anymore. Plenty of musical acts emerge from the nebulous internet music sphere ostensibly known as indie rock, but most of them play synth pop, or they rap, or they make black metal-inspired drone experiments or something.

The Pavement hegemony is dying. Just as “rock” no longer exists at the center of popular music, “indie rock” no longer exists at the center of underground music. (This is not a value judgment, just an observation; rockism is long dead too unless you’re a complete douchebag or a contrarian grandfather.)

That lackadaisical guitar sound came back big the last couple years, but it was retro. And not retro-futuristic like the hordes of ’90s-R&B-inspired tracks flooding the trendy websites, just plain retro. Not “Mad Men” retro, “That ’70s Show” retro. No one looks at Yuck and sees the future.

Parquet Courts, the Brooklyn quartet that headlines Ace of Cups this Monday, is in the same boat but feels like something different — less a tribute act than a torchbearer. As Charles Aaron put it in SPIN recently, “From the Velvet Underground to the Modern Lovers to Richard Hell to Jim Carroll to R.E.M. to the Dream Syndicate to Galaxie 500 to Pavement to the Strokes to countless others, there have always been heady rock bands trying to lock down an agitated, trance-like guitar-bass-drums groove over which some poetically inclined young man or other can intone cryptic lyrics with a flat affect and vaguely nihilistic/existential swagger.In 21st-century New York City, Parquet Courts are keeping the faith…”

Debut album Light Up Gold, released last year on the band’s own Dull Tools label and reissued this year on What’s Your Rupture?, is full of snaking guitars and sneaky melodies that congeal into smart, stoned, off-kilter bursts of jangle-punk. It exists on that ’70s post-punk/’80s college rock/’90s indie rock continuum. You can easily trace its origins back through the lineage Aaron cited.

They’re not trying to hide their enthusiasm for those college radio staples, but they have the skills for more than monkey-see, monkey-do. When I called singer-guitarist Andrew Savage, the hub who brought the other three members together, I asked him about that lineage, particularly the backlog of artsy New York punk bands that inform Parquet Courts’ music. He didn’t sound like an aspiring historical reenactor.

“I’m not interested in romanticizing what it is to be a New York band or having a New York image, at least not the one people are accustomed to now,” Savage said. “That kind of bores me. It’s not real. If people want to identify us as a New York band, I’d be more interested in making a new definition of what that is and making a new sound.”

Maybe the down-to-earth perspective comes from Texas, where three out of four Parquet Courts members grew up before relocating to Brooklyn. Or maybe it’s just that the band spends too much time on tour to glamorize its adopted hometown; even in their various bands before Parquet Courts, these guys were road warriors.

Because Light Up Gold came out last year but reached a much wider audience this year, Parquet Courts had toured behind the album extensively even before they played The Summit last January. All that experience showed; the band jerked and swiveled with the boisterous precision of Wire circa Pink Flag.

It also means Savage and his bandmates are itching to move on to fresh material like the three new songs they debuted on NPR’s World Cafe this month. There’s more where those came from; they just finished bashing out 30 new songs in the studio for an EP due later this year and an LP in 2014.

“A lot of people are still getting into the record,” Savage said. “Sometimes I struggle with it. I am enthusiastic about playing new stuff, but I feel somewhat if people are paying money to come see us play, I feel like we should play the songs that they’re familiar with and want to hear. So we’re trying to get a good balance between new stuff and the classic s---.”

Sounds like a guy ready to induct his band into the canon. And given how Light Up Gold shines, why not?