Sympathy for Life

Sympathy for Life

After the release of 2018’s Wide Awake!, Parquet Courts guitarist Austin Brown was feeling the effects of nearly a decade of touring and recording. “To be frank, I was a bit disillusioned with music in general,” he tells Apple Music. “There was this exhaustion. Maybe I was just a little bit bored with the state of rock music or indie music—it was a hard world to relate to, and I’m not sure we ever did. But I wanted to figure out a way to reject ideas of whatever was being pushed as culture, and I wanted to do it in a productive way by offering up something better.” That something is Sympathy for Life, his Brooklyn outfit’s seventh full-length. In an effort to branch out both musically and socially, Brown became a member of The Loft, New York’s longest-running (and most influential) underground dance party, ground zero for disco in the 1970s. While there is still plenty of rock to be found here (see: the hypnotic crunch of “Homo Sapien”), it’s often braided together with elements of dance music, in the spirit of Talking Heads, Happy Mondays, and Primal Scream. The emphasis was on rhythm, the goal to write songs a DJ could easily unfurl at a party. And to get there, they largely switched up their lyrics-first approach to writing, recording and editing together long stretches of improvisation. “We’ve been together for 10 years now,” Brown says. “One of the biggest influences on the sound of the record is us utilizing that. Our biggest asset and our best instrument is just us, playing together as a band.” Here, Brown guides us through songs from the album. “Walking at a Downtown Pace” “Every day in the mix session, we would spend a few hours just on this song, listening to the drums and moving stuff around, finding that sweet spot—what makes you move and what doesn't. We really wanted a song that a DJ can play at a party, and that's why we really needed to get the kick drum to hit, the snare drum to really be on that right beat. It was important for us to have that crossover feel, between rock and dance. But in trying to find what that would mean for us, it felt like a really important song for the band and for the record.” “Black Widow Spider” “A lot of the songs were cultivated from improvisations, and this is one of them. That guitar sound is super unique, and it's integral to this sound on this record. We fed Andrew's [Savage] rhythm guitar—and I think maybe the lead guitar as well—through the MS-20 synthesizer. I had this space station dub set up, where I had a 16-channel mixer, five synthesizers, but then also effects like tape echo and the harmonizer—the one that you would hear on David Bowie's Low. It's this vintage 8-bit digital pitch-shifting thing that I just am obsessed with.” “Marathon of Anger” “It's about living in quarantine during Black Lives Matter and just all of the things that were happening around that time, but also looking forward to what happens next. It's about getting to work to make the change that we need to see collectively in our personal lives and in our community. And right now, this is the marathon of anger, but what happens next? You can't just be angry, there has to be something that comes after this.” “Just Shadows” “Within the band there's been an ongoing conversation about recycling. And I guess this song is sort of summed up by that conversation for me: It just gets really frustrating when you're in your kitchen being like, ‘I'm not really sure if this is recyclable, but I feel like if I don't do this right I'm a bad person.’ And the rules about recycling are honestly so confusing, and they're put onto us as individuals, rather than the corporations which are literally making the products. The song lists the ways that we have these false choices about doing the right thing, how we find the things that are good for us, how do we know what's good for us or good for the world, and have these choices put in front of us that don't always make sense.” “Plant Life” “The word that [producer] Roddy [McDonald] used to describe it was ‘Balearic.’ It hit all these notes, and I had them build this up to be this Mediterranean island vibe, a Grace Jones ‘Pull Up to the Bumper’ kind of groove—more of a feeling or a mood. It’s like a sunset or a sunrise, a song that you could play on the beach during that time, but at night or in the morning. That late-’80s rock-meets-dance in England vibe: It was never about hard acid house. It was just about this mellow groove. It helped these guys that were in rock bands understand that transition between what can we do to integrate ourselves into this new rave world, this dance world. ‘Plant Life’ is probably the most pure expression of that on this record.” “Application/Apparatus” “The lyrics are sort of about this conflict between a person versus the robot algorithm takeover. I feel like the music really matches that in quality—it’s very electronic, robotic, a really direct expression of the lyrics. That song is sort of this total package, a complete circle of aesthetic and lyrical content and deeper meaning.” “Homo Sapien” “This is a song that Andrew brought fully realized. At first, it was the kind of track I was trying to avoid on this record—just more of a rock song. But the more that we worked on it, the more I thought, ‘This is actually cool and it fits in aesthetically.’ It feels like one of our more accomplished high-energy tracks. It's not beating you over the head with speed or anything—it’s got a groove to it. But the sound of all the guitars and everything just feels like it actually expresses the energy in an intuitive way that we haven't always had. It growls and snarls and just feels very primitive and caveman. But in a way that's got swagger to it, which I can really appreciate, because I'm just getting a little old for that finger-wagging kind of punk.” “Sympathy for Life” “I was really obsessed with the intersection between Afrobeat and dub when I was thinking about songs for this record—really into polyrhythm and really wanting to incorporate that. I worked really hard, ended up in some pretty funky zones that were really, really hard to recreate live in the studio.” “Zoom Out” “It was really inspired by being at some of these parties that I've been going to—dance parties and disco parties, the experience at The Loft. That song is more about the joy that you can experience through community, what you have when you take materialism out of your relationships.” “Trullo” “I think this is maybe my favorite song on the record. It’s another one that was cut up from a long improvisation. It’s a very sample-heavy track. I put in a guitar solo that came off of the song 'Bodies Made Of,’ off [2014’s] Sunbathing Animal. And there's some other hidden samples in there as well that I can't even remember. It’s about living inside of a house in the shape of a head, kind of like living in a skull.” “Pulcinella” “Pulcinella is this creepy Italian clown, or a masked figure sometimes appearing as a clown. It’s playful, it's kind of scary, it's sort of like a visual or a metaphorical antagonist for themes that pop up throughout the album. The lyrics I always come back to are where it talks about carrying a chain, because I think that carrying around a relationship's worth of experiences or a life's worth of experiences can get quite heavy and burdensome when you're trying to connect with people. The thing that I love about this song is how naked it feels, especially considering the production on a lot of the other songs. It felt like a sensitive way to close out the album.”

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