November 24, 2015

Parquet Courts - Monastic Living

Parquet Courts take a a vow of silence on their new EP.

Upon receiving Parquet Courts' latest EP, Monastic Living, visually, it looks almost like any other Parquet Courts record. Andrew Savage’s unmistakable artwork adorns both sides, the front cover depicting a dishwashing monk, the back showing 9 praying. However, the inner sleeve tells you that something is different about this album. Usually filled from top to bottom with writings and drawings, one side of this sleeve is blank aside from production credits. The other, a singular statement. Once you finally press play on this album, it all makes sense: this is not like any other Parquet Courts record.

Unlike the rest of their discography, which is filled to the brim with the post-punk lyrical musings of vocalist/guitarists Savage and Austin Brown, this EP forgoes lyrics in place of instrumental compositions, with much more to interpret. If you don’t read the inner sleeve’s statement before listening, you may be a little confused. Sandwiched between the lyrics of the opening track No, No, No! are a few lines that re-affirm the religious tones on the outer sleeve. “A PROFESSION OF IGNORANCE/ISN’T IT QUITE LIKE A PROFESSION OF FAITH?” These words are not heard on the album, only read.

No, No, No! kicks off this EP with a heavy drum beat and then, almost clumsily, into the lone lyrics written on the inner sleeve. The drums remain clean but the vocals and guitars are anything but, a little reminiscent of Parquet Courts’ very first album, American Specialties. Just a little, though: this band has progressed a lot since that first LP. Dissecting the lyrics seems a little silly the more I try- everything being said in this song is a rejection of this practice. They are “just a band”, and they don't want to be analyzed. Savage’s final “NO!” echoes out at the end of the song, and so begins their vow of silence.

As you might expect from Parquet Courts, their silence is still pretty loud. All of their albums have featured moments without lyrics, whether it be extended solos in Stoned and Starving or She’s Rollin’, or the multiple short instrumentals their album from last year, Content Nausea. But this EP is the longest moment, and therefore the most uncomfortable. Lyrics were key in previous Parquet Courts releases, the aforementioned lyrics sheets in nearly every record highlighted them. So for that aspect of their music to be almost entirely removed is a little jarring at first. They don’t ease you into it either, the next three songs, Monastic Living I, Elegy of Colonial Suffering and Frog Pond Plop end up melting into one another, and by the end of it you can only hear very heavily distorted guitar.

By now you’ve probably already thought it, but this is not Parquet Courts’ version of Metal Machine Music. The influence is there, like it always was. But Monastic Living does not appear to be improvisational or overtly experimental, this is still the same band making the same kind of music. If there were lyrics thrown over a few more of these songs, would that same comparison be made? The song Alms for the Poor serves as a small offering of that familiar sound, it's 46 seconds long, but it's a reminder that they're still the same band. This is not a regression, it's the opposite of that. By moving away from the traditional format of their previous work, they may be saying more than they've ever said in an album.

The reason why monks take vows of silence and retreat into hermitude is to spend time with, and therefore create a better understanding of their religion without influence from the outside world. A similar practice could be observed with this EP: it may be confusing at first listen, but there is value in spending more time with it.

1. No, No, No!
2. Monastic Living I.
3. Elegy of Colonial Suffering
4. Frog Pond Plop
5. Vow of Silence
6. Monastic Living II.
7. Alms For the Poor
8. Poverty and Obedience
9. Prison Conversion

Monastic Living will be out on November 27 2015 on Rough Trade.

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