Parquet Courts on “Sympathy for Life” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, October 3rd, 2023  

Parquet Courts on “Sympathy for Life”

Community Music

Mar 28, 2022 Photography by Pooneh Ghana Issue #69 - 20th Anniversary Issue
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The underlying thread of Parquet Courts’ latest studio album, Sympathy for Life, is a sense of unfettered community, of collaboration with those around you.

Sympathy for Life is about caring for your community,” says guitarist and co-vocalist, Austin Brown. “It’s about fostering a loving connection with this community and using that as a way to bring influence and to fight oppressive aspects of our society.”

Not only is the album’s message about collaboration, but the album came about collaboratively too. The band came together for a series of improvised jams, 30 to 40 minutes in length, which they then cut down further and further, isolating the parts that resonated with them. “We would do the initial listen and make notes on the stuff we liked,” says fellow guitarist and co-vocalist, Andrew Savage. “And then listen again and make notes on the best of that and just kind of keep going down until we found a nice combination of interesting moments, and moments that make good components to collage into a song.”

The band credits producer Rodaidh McDonald (The xx, Hot Chip, David Byrne), with being an instrumental part of the process. He would help them take these sprawling jams and, in-the-moment, cut them, trim them, and polish them into gleaming album-length tracks. Was the process difficult? Not entirely, but it was a different approach for the band. “We weren’t precious about the process,” says Brown. “There was lots of stuff that didn’t get used, but I think the most exciting part of it was making those decisions in the moment.”

They desired the different approach though, describing their last two albums (2018’s Wide Awake! and 2016’s Human Performance) as “melodic” and “individualistic.” Brown met with McDonald in LA after a DJing gig, well before the pandemic began, to discuss different starting points for the next Parquet Courts record. The pair went through Brown’s record collection, found elements of tracks by artists (Tony Allen, Larry Heard, and Bobby Konders to name a few), isolated those elements, and created what Brown calls “vibe tracks.” These tracks served as inspiration for the band’s members during these jam sessions, with each member (including bassist Sean Yeaton and drummer Max Savage) listening to the tracks through headphones.

The process was not made “with the intention of ending up with that sound,” says Brown, “but just the intention of coming from a different starting place. I think that it’s inevitable that we end up in the Parquet Courts world if it’s us that’s recording it, but bringing a different mindset from the start can influence the results.”

The results are different, but just as Parquet Courts as their previous albums. While Wide Awake! was a raucous party, Sympathy for Life is more like the comedown. Party-goers wake up and start to reexamine the components of their lives, and the relationship with the world and those around them. With elements of dub, psychedelia, and ambience, the record shines like the more reserved, older sibling of Wide Awake!—but with just as much to say.

Tracks such as “Marathon of Anger,” “Homo Sapien,” and “Application/Apparatus” all feature the trademark Parquet Courts philosophical lens. The lyrics are prophetic and profound, exploring topics such as the Black Lives Matter protests and our collective reliance on technology, and yet the instrumentation and tone of the tracks are wildly diverse. But, as Andrew Savage explains, the philosophical material isn’t really articulated before the creation process. “There’s a kind of psychic thing where you’re putting these ideas into a pot, four people bringing their own ideas, and the philosophy kind of comes out of that.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 69 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, our 20th Anniversary Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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