Review: ‘Sunbathing Animal,’ Parquet Courts

photo: Parquet Courts 'Sunbathing Animal' album cover“Bodies made of slugs and guts,” intones Parquet Courts singer Andrew Savage on the first track of “Sunbathing Animal,” the New York-via-Texas quartet’s third record.

As with many of Savage’s lyrics, listeners can’t be certain of what he’s referring to, but as a description of human anatomy, it’s as pithy and grim an assessment as Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock’s in the final moments of “The Moon & Antarctica” (i.e. we “ain't made of nothin' but water and s***”).

Of course, reductionism was a defining element of Parquet Courts’ songwriting on breakout album “Light Up Gold.” That album's standout track, “Stoned and Starving” moseys along with a chugging bass line, interspersed with Savage’s repetition of his titular drug-addled mindset, simplistic guitar solos and little else.

Parquet Courts is and likely always will be a guitar band through and through (although the bits of recorder on the “Tally All the Things That You Broke” EP are a welcome addition). “Sunbathing Animal” maintains that devotion, even as bands of their disposition become rarer and rarer ever since Jack White started recruiting bagpipe players and fiddlers.

This quasi-minimalist philosophy also drives their (lack of) social media presence. In an ultramodern digital age, the band merely sticks with a sparsely updated Wordpress page, with incessant touring and recorded output taking the burden of PR work which, based on the indie rockers’ quickly rising status, has been punctually effective.

Much of Parquet Courts’ charm relies on Andrew Savage’s vocal delivery, in fine form here on the 13 tracks of “Sunbathing Animal.” Savage makes the most of his limited range with deadpan humor and jumbled lyrics that call to mind the master of alt-rock word salad, R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe.

Take standout “Duckin’ & Dodgin,’” in which a boogie groove backs Savage’s sprechgesang. On first listen, it’s anyone’s guess what in the world he’s rambling on about.

But his rapidfire lyrics never veer toward bad poetry, and as it turns out, his cadenced verbosity is inspired in part by Soviet composer and one-time exile Sergei Prokofiev, adding a poignancy to the line "You've been ducking and dodging but you can't come home no more."

As a whole "Sunbathing Animal" isn't as cohesive a record or a mission statement as "Light Up Gold." The album splits the difference between short-fast and long-slow numbers. “She’s Rolling” and “Instant Disassembly” center on a guitar lick stretched to its absolute limits with releaxed tempos, while “Black and White” and the title track are frantic punk songs.

The latter is the band’s finest song to date, incorporating all the nuts and bolts that make Parquet Courts so memorable: Savage belting out indiscernible lyrics that induce head-scratching when read on paper, a rhythm section on full-speed cruise control, and guitars solos that sing rather than shred.