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$35.00 – General Admission Floor
$35.00 – Reserved Balcony
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Parquet Courts’ thought-provoking rock is dancing to a new tune. Sympathy For Life finds the Brooklyn band at both their most instinctive and electronic, spinning their bewitching, psychedelic storytelling into fresh territory, yet maintaining their unique identity.
Built largely from improvised jams, inspired by New York clubs, Primal Scream and Pink Floyd and produced in league with Rodaidh McDonald (The xx, Hot Chip, David Byrne), Sympathy For Life was always destined to be dancey. Unlike its globally adored predecessor, 2018’s Wide Awake! – a Top 30 hit here and an album of the year everywhere from Spin and The Skinny to NME and Australia’s Double J – the focus fell on grooves rather than rhythm.
“Wide Awake! was a record you could put on at a party,” says co-frontman Austin Brown. “Sympathy For Life is influenced by the party itself. Historically, some amazing rock records been made from mingling in dance music culture – from Talking Heads to Screamadelica. Our goal was to bring that in to our own music.
“Each of us, in our personal lives, has been going to more dance parties. Or rather, we were, pre-pandemic, which is when this record was made.”
Before sessions began at Brooklyn’s The Bridge studio in autumn 2019, as ever, the quartet (Brown and Savage plus bassist Sean Yeaton and drummer Max Savage) took time out to work on ideas separately. For co-frontman A Savage, that meant a trip to Italy armed with Mad Hatter acid.
“I took a lot of acid with me and started working out,” he says. “I call it trippy lifting. I would trip and work out during the day, then write songs at night. Three or four of the songs that made it on to album began there – Walking At A Downtown Pace, Pulcinella, Trullo. Most of my ideas for the artwork formed at that time too. I had a big piece of paper taped to the wall that read “CAN, CANNED HEAT, & THIS HEAT”. That was the sound I wanted to find.”
Back home, the jamming began.
“Most of the songs were created by taking long improvisations and moulding them through our own editing,” explains Brown. “The biggest asset we have as artists is the band. After 10 years together, our greatest instrument is each other. The purest expression of Parquet Courts is when we are improvising.”
Dreamy lead single Plant Life, released in June, was edited to 10 minutes from a 40 minute-plus jam and almost halved again for the album. Digital disco-punk anthem Marathon Of Anger, which began as a largely electronic jam inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests, was painstakingly snipped from 41 minutes to a neat four and a half.
In between was where the hard work occurred.
“More than any of our albums, this one was about the process,” says Brown. “It was about viewing the themes through a dance music lens and our own filter to discover where it would take us. Seven albums in, the pressure is on to do something new, but still sound like us.”
Key to the complex process was working with McDonald, first at The Bridge, then for an intense fortnight at The Outlier Inn, a sprawling, bucolic studio in the Catskills, where 2014’s Sunbathing Animal was recorded.
“I met Rodaidh when I was DJing in LA,” notes Brown. “I brought my records to his house and we spent days talking about what we wanted to do and sampling stuff from both of our collections for references. When he came to New York to record, we mashed up some of those samples to make beats and grooves and jammed over the top. It was a cool way to work, completely different for us.”
Also central was a Korg MS-20 synthesiser, through which the guitars were fed. Austin often switched to synths. Max Savage played lots of e-drums live. In the Catskills, they used a geodesic dome as a reverb tank and Brown manned a dub station.
“On some of the songs, I wasn’t playing anything but everyone else’s instruments,” he says. “For Plant Life and Marathon Of Anger, I ran everything through the mixer doing the echoes and delay. It’s the same way you’d mix a dub album.”
In March last year, the band decamped to Real World Studios near Bath to work with John Parish on Sympathy For Life’s Sandinista!-esque title track and the sensual, strung-out Pulcinella.
“While we were there, the papers were full of Covid stories, but we were too busy to read them,” explains Savage. “We thought the headlines were unnecessarily alarmist until we arrived at the airport to fly home and people were wearing masks. We left two days before lockdown.”
By then, the album was almost finished and all of the lyrics were written. Spookily, Sympathy For Life opens and ends with songs which reference masks. Closer Pulcinella was inspired by a souvenir of the masked Commedia dell’Arte character of the same name.
“Only afterwards it occurred to me that Commedia dell’Arte was very popular during the Great Plague,” says Savage.
Why did he gravitate to this character while in Italy?
“Perhaps I had a plague premonition,” he smiles.
As everything shut down around the world, so – inevitably – the album release was postponed too. It finally arrives this October, exactly a year late, yet also right on time.
With their second album Excess, Automatic — Izzy Glaudini (synths, lead vocals), Lola Dompé (drums, vocals) and Halle Saxon-Gaines (bass) — synthesizes a new strain of retrofuturist motorik pop.
It’s often said yesterday’s science fiction reads like today’s grim reality. On their new album Excess, Automatic channel both. The LA trio’s second album for Stones Throw rides the imaginary edge where the ‘70s underground met the corporate culture of the ‘80s; or, as the band puts it, “That fleeting moment when what was once cool quickly turned and became mainstream all for the sake of consumerism.”
Using this point in time as a lens through which to view the present, Automatic takes aim at corporate culture and extravagance, weaving deadpan critiques into cold wave hooks. The album’s overarching themes of alienation and escapism emerged as Automatic wrote Excess together, fleshing out songs before decamping to the studio for sprint recording sessions with producer Joo Joo Ashworth (Sasami, FROTH).
On “New Beginning”, they reject the false hope of leaving behind a scorched planet in search of “a better place”, at a moment when the ultra-rich are eyeing manned space travel: “In the service of desire / We will travel far away”. Imagining the “nihilism and loneliness” of attempting to escape the planet once unchecked consumerism has reached its logical conclusion, the song pictures being “stranded in a space-void with no connection to Earth or humanity.”
The band wanted to do away with the tape hiss and raw edges of their 2019 debut Signal in favor of more detailed drums and teething low-end synthesizers; brasher sounds for a brasher time. The theme of “I’m On the Edge” – the precarity of the art life – is mirrored in Lola’’s twitchy drumming and Izzy’s erratic synths. “Venus Hour” is “about whatever it is inside you that makes you want to do that thing that isn’t logical, or safe.” The song grapples with the double-edged sword of desire – the fine line between insatiability and addiction. Izzy originally wrote “Venus Hour” as an ode to “psycho-feminine energy”. The final version moves with the verve of Blondie and classic DEVO, an undercurrent of anxiety crackling beneath a très cool veneer.
The rest of the tracks on the album were born of extended jam sessions. Halle notes that Excess didn’t come as easily as their debut, and that finishing it took resilience and encouragement from all three members, feeding into each other’s ideas and trying new techniques in the studio. One such track, “Teen Beat”, is named for a preset on Halle’s old-school analog drum machine. It bristles with youthful, near-manic energy, with lyrics about the inevitable climate crisis: “Your feet in the water / The fear coming for you.”
“To us, the name came to be about Gen Z inheriting the world at the eleventh hour, before they’re even old enough to drink,” says Halle. “Before we landed on ‘Teen Beat,’ we affectionately called it ‘Madness’ — the madness you feel with the state of polarization today.”
Automatic imagines a Patrick Bateman type in “Skyscraper” — the kind of sociopath who excels in C-suites and complains about affordable housing going up in his neighborhood. “It’s spending your life making money and then spending it to fill the void created by said job,” says Halle. “Kind of like going to LA to live your dreams,” says Lola. “NRG,” written in a cathartic fritz after listening to Crass and named in honor of disco pioneer Patrick Cowley, grapples with “the unknowingness that comes with testing boundaries and exploring one’s own values while finding your place in the world as an individual,” says Lola. On “NRG”, the trio grapples with their own position — as a band, as a “brand,” as women in the music industry, and how their relationship to their own labor has changed as they chart a course forward into uncharted territory. After all, they’ve got to keep going, and so do you.
But Excess’ final message is one of solidarity, rather than despair. “I can’t stand to hear you talk this way / Like every new beginning ends the same,” opens “Turn Away,” the last song of the album, hearkening back to the visions of failed space excursions. It’s “meant to feel like an arm over your shoulder in a loving gesture.” Instead of succumbing to fatalism, Automatic chooses hope: “There’s a light in the dark / Feel the world open up.” “We want people to feel empowered to do what they can to save the world, to reject any complacency of watching the world burn,” Halle says.
Excess is a definitive arrival moment for Automatic, who meld the blissful bounce of Tom Tom Club with the techno-futurist inclinations of Kraftwerk, and deliver it all with the listlessness of modern young adulthood. Even the mirrored bodice on the cover reflects the current day: distorted and chaotic with a sleek sheen. As Izzy says, “The record is about what happens to our psyches when we’re conditioned to certain values — the consequences of those values, and the desire to resist them.” Automatic captures the tense energy of our current moment, where questions are plentiful, but answers are scarce.