By Jason Shoff
Brooklyn's Parquet Courts have, over the past two years, become one of indie rock's fastest-rising and most hyped groups, generating the kind of buzz that many young bands would kill for. They've also been incredibly prolific, releasing two EPs and three full-length albums since 2012, one of which was under the alias of Parkay Quartz (will their next release be under a moniker like Parakeet Shorts? Only time will tell.) So when I had the opportunity to review their latest EP, Monastic Living, I immediately took it, eager to hear what their latest creation sounded like. Alas, this EP sounds nothing like a work created by monks or nuns. In fact, I don't think even Satan himself could create something this God-awful.
It starts off well enough with opening track "No, No, No!" which in hindsight should have been a ginormous red flag warning me to quit while I was ahead. After aping the drum intro to the Pixies' "Bone Machine," it launches into what sounds like Blur's "Song 2" if the master tape had been eaten up, all indecipherable vocals and dissonant white noise. But "Monastic Living 1" is when it all goes downhill. Fast. Imagine if you will, two kids playing their instruments and jamming for the first time: one's trying to figure out the sounds of his or her new synth, and the other is trying to play Van Halen riffs and tapping on his or her guitar for the first time. Then halfway through, he or she attempts to play his very first ever solo. Yes, it's that bad.
"Elegy of Colonial Suffering" begins with the potential to be a pretty cool early Sub Pop-era grunge rocker, but after a repeated distorted riff it never launches into an actual song. "Frog Pond Flop" sounds like it could be a Metal Machine Music outtake (and think how bad a song would have to be for it to be an outtake from that record). And "Vow of Silence" is not what its title says it is, but rather what you'd get if you turned on a half-working vintage Super NES and recorded what it sounded like.
"Monastic Living II" is the first thing that has anything resembling a melody, and it is kinda sorta catchy (though I may be experiencing Stockholm syndrome at this point). Then finally, with "Aims for the Poor" we have something that actually sounds like a goddamn SONG; an REM/Joy Division collaboration recorded in someone's garage (maybe Peter Buck's?). But that only lasts 42 seconds before "Poverty and Obedience" makes it sound like I hit the jackpot at a casino on every slot machine simultaneously. "Prison Conversion" then brings it all to a merciful end with a somewhat hooky bassline that guides you through even more random guitar noise.
Sometimes I've wondered what it would be like to record an intentionally horrible album. Like literally the worst one you could possibly make. Well it sounds like Parquet Courts beat me to the punch with this EP. Or, to put it another way: I listened to this while taking a walk, and during my hike a needle went through my shoe and pierced my foot. That was not nearly as painful as anything I listened to on Monastic Living.