New York based indie rock group Parquet Courts have released what is their second extended play to date. The band, forming in 2010, has built up a pretty solid reputation in the world of indie rock – their previous albums were received generally positively. They have even made a few trips here to Aus, with their most recent being a spot at Splendour in the Grass 2014. Parquet Courts has taken an entirely different, somewhat unexpected detour in their approach to their latest offering Monastic Living.
Experimental music is defined as “a compositional tradition that arose in the mid-20th century, of music composed in such a way that its outcome is unforeseeable”. If we’re going by that definition, I guess Parquet Courts has succeeded greatly and we can all go home happy.
But nah, seriously though.
It’s really difficult to critique something that has the “experimental” label on it. It’s like that one magic word can automatically save your ass from any criticism. It can save music from being “unstructured”, into being “differently structured”. It can save vocals from being “off-key” to instead being “purposely unharmonious”. It can save music from being “a bunch of sounds literally just thrown together and hoping for the best” to instead being “it’s experimental, that’s the point”. Basically, by calling your music experimental you’re taking a real hipster “UGH you just don’t get it” stance. A stance kinda like this:
Yeah, a stance like that.
In saying all of this, I’m not saying that I hate or even dislike experimental music. Some of the best music in the world has flourished from experimentation. The point I’m trying to make is that, it feels wrong critiquing experimental music; it’s like kicking someone while they’re down. However. Given that Parquet Courts are internationally famous with a huge following, have set a pretty high standard in the way their music has progressed over the years and lastly, the fact that they are actually TOURING for this experimental EP justifies my given response.
In a nutshell, I didn’t really like Monastic Living. Just from looking at the track listing, one can see that more than half of the songs are either just over or under a minute in length. The rest being over five minutes long, this straight away gives us a heads up that it’s not going to be traditional to say the least.
There are some pretty cool moments scattered throughout, but most every single one of them are ruined by either being too short, muffled out by annoying effects (ie. way too much distortion), or just plain and simply falling out of it’s cool working pattern into a really messy, uncomfortable one.
Monastic Living kicks off with ‘No No No!’ – the only song that features any vocals at all. Despite only going for a minute and twelve seconds, it was a pretty cool way to open up the EP. It’s obvious that the song takes an experimental approach, with most of the words being unintelligible, but still managing to emulate some grit and attitude. It set the standard of what a Parquet Courts experimental EP should sound like. From there, we’re taken into the rest of the extended play which, to be completely honest, I don’t know how to explain.
Almost every song segues smoothly into the next, with the majority featuring a large lack of structure, heavy distortion, and frankly, just some really annoying noises (eg. 80’s arcade game noises) all throughout.
The seventh track of the nine-track effort, titled Alms for the Poor, is probably the clearest and most Parquet Courts sounding tune on the record. It is led by a filthy dark-driven guitar riff, which I absolutely love. It sets up what would be the perfect moment at the 28-second mark for singer Andrew Savage to snap into belting out some raw and gritty lyrics.
Instead of this happening however, Alms for the Poor takes the exact opposite route, instead of being the point where the song really takes off and begins to become kick-ass, the song instead begins to wrap up, completely finishing up at the 45 second mark. This was ridiculously frustrating. The band had such potential to make such a cool sounding song and completely threw it out the window. For god sake, Parquet Courts.
The album finishes on its longest song yet, a total of exactly eight minutes. About seven minutes and fifteen seconds of which contain a slow, droney bass line repeating alongside all sorts of ridiculous noises unnecessarily popping in. The last whole 45 seconds is reminiscent of an extremely annoying fire/car alarm going off. Then about four or five more fire alarms are added on top of that, with no other sounds, literally making you excited for when the song ends, if you don’t turn it off yourself.
So, in conclusion, Parquet Courts’ Monastic Living is a major disappointment. After the initial curiosity wears off, Monastic Living really doesn’t have a lot to offer. It seems as though it was something the band made for themselves rather than their fans, like they needed to get it off their chest. Perhaps they wanted to go out and prove that they aren’t JUST an indie rock project, and aren’t afraid to push boundaries, which I guess you can’t fault them for.
I really hope now that they’ve gotten this out of the way they can get back to their good form. However, this is a piece about Monastic Living, not the band’s journey. If it weren’t for the few cool moments throughout, I wouldn’t know what to do. But as it stands, I give Monastic Living by Parquet Courts a total score of 2.5/10.
Artist: Parquet Courts
Album Title: Monastic Living
Label: Rough Trade
Genre: Experimental Rock
Moments of Standout: Track 01 No No No! & 07 Alms for the Poor
Forgettable Moments: The rest of the EP.
Written by: Jakob