BY JORDAN MAINZER
Apparently they’ve been eating the yellow snow. Some of the best music of the past few months has expanded upon the wisecrack-heavy legacy of Tom Waits, Frank Zappa, Leonard Cohen, and The Modern Lovers. From lamenting about job prospects to apologizing for ogling women through punky, sarcastic humor, indie bands have lately avoided the self-righteousness that can occur when rockers explore “important” topics (in other words, these bands are even further from U2 in tone than in sound). While Brooklyn’s Parquet Courts and LA’s FIDLAR certainly have their fair share of not-so-essential songs, those two bands along with Allentown, PA’s Pissed Jeans have built upon canonical humor rock to suggest that “just because [certain topics] aren’t serious, that doesn’t mean they aren’t important.”
If The Modern Lovers explored how society gives male celebrities a free pass with misogyny, Matt Korvette’s Pissed Jeans and February’s excellent Honeys are a bit more ambitious as they attempt to eradicate male juvenile behavior wholesale. By creating songs set in a cubicle setting that emasculates its subjects and prevents them from achieving upward mobility, Korvette laughs at these white male anxieties while simultaneously portraying how debilitating they can be. Whether hypochondria/fear of doctors, dealing with horrible bosses, or just growing up, Korvette’s smart, relatable topics have helped him refine his unique brand of punk, one whose day-to-day ambitions rise above nihilistically drinking cheap beer.
However, FIDLAR and their Budweiser are occasionally deeper than their goofball philosophy (the band’s name is an acronym for “fuck it, dog, life’s a risk”). While “Cheap Beer” is the catchiest song on January’s self-titled debut, “No Waves”, despite exploring the familiar territory of suburban teenage boredom, is the best. A litany of symptoms (from early aging to ennui) that come with excess drug abuse, “No Waves” is a blistering punk song that thankfully simplifies what art and academia tend to complicate with emotional and statistical flourishes: some kids are self-destructive because they’re bored.
Yet, it’s this boredom and non-glory that actually give Parquet Courts, who are more lived than FIDLAR, some perspective. 2012’s unmistakably brilliant Light Up Gold is filled with the longing to be purposeless a la Cloud Nothings’ “Stay Useless”. However, like Pissed Jeans, Parquet Courts finds the humor in their own worries. Time passes, people are interchangeable, and change on your desk piles up, as in “Yonder is Closer to the Heart”, but what’s really important is what you’re going to eat and drink when you’re stoned. By itself, “Stoned and Starving” the best and longest (5 minutes) track on the album, is just fun and funny. In the context of what comes before it in the sequence of Light up Gold (nine snotty but thoughtful tracks), the song suggests that Parquet Courts recognize that there might only be “Careers in Combat”, but they’re not gonna let that depress them. They’re still going to smoke pot and eat Swedish Fish.
Punk’s very nature can manifest itself in nihilism or us against the world urgency. FP’s Leo Lopez wrote a brief history of punk ambition in 2011 inspired by the recent releases of brilliant operas like Titus Andronicus’s 2010 opus The Monitor and Fucked Up’s awesome masterpiece, 2011’s David Comes to Life. Those albums placed individual struggles in the context of historical or broader conflict and somehow never seemed bloated or pretentious. But having the chutzpah, especially in today’s depressed and unequal economic climate, to elevate the trivial minutiae of daily life to the utmost importance, is equally ambitious. It’s just not entirely obnoxious because it’s so self-aware. Recognizing the absurdity of the human condition is not just the first step in dealing with anxiety for Parquet Courts, Pissed Jeans, and FIDLAR. It’s the only step. After that, they can truly feel comfortable with laughing, emoting, and making a risky statement. Fuck it, dog. Let’s go for it.
Jordan Mainzer is a staff writer at FP and the editor of art, architecture, and design blog DRA. He recently wrote a review of Jamie Lidell’s self-titled record. A recent graduate of Brown University, he now lives in Chicago.