PARQUET COURTS / THE WYTCHES / ULTIMATE PAINTING, 26TH JUNE 2014, OXFORD ACADEMY
James Hoare is clearly a workaholic. Not content with one side-project (The
Proper Ornaments), the Veronica
Falls guitarist has begun
another, this time with Mazes’ Jack Cooper. At first, they’re not so much
Ultimate Painting as Slapdash Doodle On Back Of Fag Packet. “This is our fourth
show”, Cooper says sheepishly. “We’ve got an album out in October. Maybe we’ll
have figured out how to do this by then.”
Gradually, though, with the assistance of the headliners’ Austin Brown on
bass, the songs swim into clearer focus, transporting us back to the halcyon
days of British indie – Teenage Fanclub, The Wedding Present, The Jesus &
Mary Chain et al. As nostalgia trips go, it could certainly be worse.
In tonight’s company, The Wytches feel like gatecrashers, barging their way
through the door with brute force and bludgeoning riffs rather than relying
upon the slightly subtler wiles of their recorded output to win hearts and
minds. The result is a gloopy, grungy stew superficially garnished rather than
richly flavoured with psych that proves undernourishing for the vast majority.
When Parquet Courts came to prominence last year with Light Up Gold, they
bore all the hallmarks of being a Pitchfork writer’s wet dream made flesh:
nerdy, witty, literate twentysomethings with a penchant for Pavement and a keen
sense of their adopted home city of New
York’s punk/garage lineage, from Television through
Sonic Youth to The Strokes. While that widely acclaimed album had a perky and
chaotic immediacy, its successor Sunbathing Animal is a rather different
beast, largely a less accessible exercise in sustain and release that hints at greater
influence by The Modern Lovers.
If perhaps less welcome on record, this shift turns out to work well in the
live environment, where songs like ‘Bodies Made Of’, ‘What Colour Is Blood?’,
‘She’s Rolling’ and ‘Instant Disassembly’ come into their own, also throwing
their faster counterparts into relief. According to Brown, Sunbathing Animal
is about freedom and captivity, and certainly the quartet refuse to be held
hostage to audience expectations, airing (by my reckoning) just three tracks
from the album that made their name. For a band whose sound is often joyously
messy (while simultaneously impeccably tight), they’ve earned a reputation for
being surprisingly frosty and aloof, and Brown’s co-lead vocalist Andrew Savage
eyes the moshpit with a degree of disdain.
But, in pleasing themselves, Parquet Courts succeed in pleasing this punter,
at least, and in the end they give their public what they want, wrapping up
with the two albums’ title tracks. ‘Sunbathing Animal’ in particular is
stunning in its blistering pace and wired intensity, albeit a cruelly punishing
finale to the set for poor drummer Max Savage.
In keeping with the punk ethos, there’s no encore.
Beforehand, I would have thought that not playing ‘Stoned & Starving’ would
have been unforgiveable, but by the end I could forgive them just about