Boredom is an all-too-universal feeling, and if the current generation of indie bands have given us anything it’s the soundtrack to it’s perpetuity. If Wavves gets it nominally and any of the various acts labeled ‘chillwave’ are guilty of sonic enactment, Parquet Courts deserve recognition as our best guides through the experience of soul-erasing ennui. Even if you aren’t inclined to ingest certain illegal herbs, Stoned and Starving is maybe the most accurate song ever written about day off with no money in outer-borough New York. Instant Disassembly is the soundtrack to a two-year period of my life that I couldn’t sum up for you anymore than I could analyze the lyrics. Parquet Courts is the sound of going absolutely nowhere in life but being so directionless that the hopelessness of that reality doesn’t even depress you.
This isn’t really a good recipe for dynamic music, much less dynamic music videos. Parquet Courts on both accounts are pretty damn boring. They do very little of interest melodically, use the flattest guitar and vocal tones possible, generally resist humor and refuse to include anything resembling harmony or counterpoint. This is not a band that’s improved by a close headphone listen – they’re probably at their best on shitty laptop speakers. Their videos reflect the music – for the most part they feature mundane people going about mundane activities, with very little commentary or visual manipulation.
Like most 21st century indie bands, Parquet Courts owe their existence to the Replacements, and it’s fitting that the ur-video is the Mats’s magisterial video for Bastards of Young. Parquet Courts explicitly mimic it in their clip for Sunbathing Animal, altering it only by adding a very literal representation of the song’s title and replacing the conclusive act of violence with an act of lonely silliness (frontman Andrew Savage singing into the mirror with a hairbrush). If Paul Westerberg translated listlessness into drunken outrage, Savage opts for naval-gazing spazzing.
Human Performance is Parquet Courts’s best record yet, and the two videos it’s spawned are some of their most entertaining. Dust, probably the most accurate song about detritus ever written, features an accountant going about his job with increased frustration while a fade-over image of a broom steadily transforms into a bugle-playing dust monster. It’s hard to tell which storyline is more inane – the accountant’s despair and the dust’s triumph ultimately equate to the same vacant thing. The video almost doesn’t overplay it’s hand – the flashes to a cigarette-smoking skeleton make it just a little to clear where all of this is going.
Berlin Got Blurry is their most normal video yet, and once again wins points for staggering accuracy. Plenty of videos capture the alienation and/or wonder of visiting a foreign country – almost none capture the inane boredom that comes when you’re stuck in a place you don’t really understand. Savage looks lonely and not particularly amused by any of the wonders Berlin has to offer. Instead he spends his time failing to navigate the subway system, struggling to do his laundry on a foreign washing machine, and awkwardly making smalltalk with a beer hall bartender. These are the realities of traveling, and if we spent more time dwelling on them instead of celebrating the seconds-long joys of photo-worthy experiences the tourism industry would be in shambles.
These inconsequential inconveniences are what Parquet Courts’s project is all about. We want to remember the interesting parts of life. We hold onto our joy and, when, we can’t get it, we romanticize our sorrow. When we’re forced to recall boredom, we tend to stretch it out into either agony or endless sunny leisure – languor set to Lou Reed on a good day and Joy Division on a bad one. Parquet Courts wants you to remember the time’s 99% – the sweeping and the weed and the the organizing of paperwork. These aren’t the things that make life worth living, but they must not be that bad if we can manage to spend most of our time muddling through them.
It’s funny, because despite the alienating mundanity of their music, Parquet Courts gave one of the most fun shows I’ve ever seen in Brooklyn in 2014. They seemed completely at home, friends with at least a quarter of the audience and more than happy to get drunk along with everyone else in the room. Songs like Bodies, which sound a little bit horrifying on record, live came across as party tracks. It’s no small feat to look at home in Brooklyn, and an even more monumental one to put a roomful of Bushwick coolkids at complete unselfconscious ease.
Maybe it’s fitting that a band focused on listless ennui so effectively brings together a city of self-elected drifters. As I took my two-hour subway ride alone to get to my garbage little apartment one neighborhood away, I got the crushing empty feeling that I got basically every night doing the exact same thing. It’s a feeling I’m pretty sure that everyone in Brooklyn feels for a majority of their miserable, overpriced, overheated, dirt-covered, grease-flavored day. It’s not really sad – it’s just so hideously typical. There’s nothing more uniting than the miseries of everyday life. It’s gratifying that there’s someone paying enough attention to them to write the soundtrack.