Parquet Courts — Sympathy for Life — Album Review

Indie | Rock | Alternative | Post-Punk

Listen on Spotify | Listen on Apple Music

There was one thing that I managed to pick up on instantly, when first listening to New York post-punk band Parquet Courts; and that was that they get their messages across loud and clear.

This felt truest when I discovered them through their last album, 2018’s Wide Awake!. I felt like that album was incredible, when it came to pushing the idea of being “woke” with each of the energetic bangers that it had to offer.

Fast-forward three years later, into 2021, and Parquet Courts now deliver the more somber message of consumerism, through their brand new album, Sympathy For Life.

This new album was teased by a handful of tracks; the ones I listened to including what ended up being the first two tracks listed on the album itself. While I thought that the former teaser, “Walking at a Downtown Pace” was stylistically a way to bridge the gap between this album and the last, it was through their latter teaser “Black Widow Spider” where I felt most invested in the album. The way the instrumental flows with vocalist Andrew Savage’s words just worked perfectly.

That being said, I was excited to see what would follow, when the full album was released. That time finally came this Friday just gone.

I’ll start with the most positive aspect of the album. And that is, of course, the aforementioned consumerism narrative. Parquet Courts do a really great job of questioning the idea of finding pleasure in excess, and the way we use that as compensation to keep us going through the drab of our everyday working lives; or at least, that was the kind of context I was getting from this album anyhow. You can kind of see where I’m coming from hopefully, with lyrics like “I want things so much more than I want to sometimes” (found on the closing track “Pulcinella”.

But while the overall aesthetic allows the narrative to feel incredibly strong, it unfortunately has a detracting impact on the overall feel of the musicality. From the perspective of somebody who has left the likes of Wide Awake! to venture into this new album, it is fair to say that the more scarce amount of “punch” that Sympathy for Life was glaringly noticeable.

This could be seen as a good thing, from the perspective of someone who was looking for a more somber and grounded sound from Parquet Courts, and I respect that entirely. However, the way I feel about it personally, is that said lack of “punch” detracts from the overall memorability and satisfaction that Sympathy for Life gave. The way I see it, this album seems to tip the scales to an unbalanced degree, when it comes to substance and style.

In terms of the listening experience, regarding the actual message that Parquet Courts are trying to convey, that absolutely hit the mark. However, it is the actual musical enjoyment side of things that I’m still left feeling unsure about. Perhaps the more drab and dreary nature is the whole point; it’s just one that I’m struggling to swallow personally.

Favourite Tracks: Black Widow Spider | Just Shadows | Sympathy for Life

Least Favourite Track: Marathon of Anger

Rough Trade

Enjoyment: 7/10 | Memorability: 6/10 | Atmosphere: 8/10

Uniqueness: 6/10 | Satisfaction: 6/10 | Narrative: 10/10

Final Score: 7/10

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