Parquet Courts’ Studio Albums, from Worst to Best

Parquet Courts’ Studio Albums, from Worst to Best

This article was edited in January 2021, as the events of 2020 have changed the placing of Wide Awake!.

Parquet Courts are one of my favorite bands of the 2010s, in no small part because they recall the best aspects of literate 90s bands like Pavement without sounding like mere imitators or revivalists. Over time their sound has evolved, but the strength of their songwriting and their general attitude haven’t changed a bit. (I’m not including their EPs, their debut cassette American Specialties, or their collaboration with Daniele Luppi, Milano—hence “studio albums.”)

5. Content Nausea

This album was released under the name “Parkay Quarts,” which signified that it featured a smaller line-up of just A. Savage and Austin Brown. Although it has its moments, It’s by-and-large skippable for newcomers.

4. Sunbathing Animal

This is some people’s favorite—it’s their only album featured on Pitchfork’s Best of the Decade—but to me it feels more transitional than essential. It isn’t bad by any means, but even its best songs only touch the more mediocre cuts from their other material. When looked at from the perspective of their larger career arc, it represents the point where they began broadening their horizons from the straight-forward sound of Light Up Gold, forming the basis for their later, more eclectic material.

3. Light Up Gold

Light Up Gold was their breakthrough moment and their first proper album. It’s their Slanted and Enchanted: scrappy indie rock songs ranging from long to very short. The first two tracks, “Master of My Craft” and “Borrowed Time”, represent the Pavement-esque slacker-cum-intellectual, indie-meets-punk attitude that would go on to define their career, and happen to be two of their best. The rest of the album doesn’t disappoint: “Stoned and Starving” is one of their most famous songs for a reason, and “Yonder is Closer to the Heart” is another socially charged, smart-but-cool monologue. If you need a starting point for the band’s catalog, you could do a lot worse than start here.

2. Wide Awake!

There’s not really a bad word to be said about Wide Awake! as of now. The main issue with it compared to what I’ve ranked above it is that, lyrically, it’s extremely of the times. When I was initially compiling this list, I referred to it as “reeking of 2018”, but in the time since it’s become clear that songs like “Violence” and “Normalization”, just to name two, feel more relevant than ever. The band are also able to universalize the specific concerns of our time to a more general sense of frustration—“Total Football” and “Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience”, for example, touch on feelings that stretch beyond our current era of activism—but in the end, time will tell if the of-the-moment-ness will hold it back or allow it to grow better.

1. Human Performance

We now come to the album that got them a Grammy nomination. Granted, it was for the packaging (A. Savage is also an artist and designs all the band’s visuals), but the music is rewarding as well. Human Performance finds the band beginning to break out of the niche that their earlier material had carved—check out the single release of “Captive of the Sun”, which turned it into a rap-rock song featuring Bun B—while keeping the lyrics less overtly political than on Wide Awake!. Although it’s hard to pick a single best album out of their albums, since the flaws are often what make them as good as they are, Human Performance has the fewest flaws to begin with: it’s a statement of who the band are—at least for now.