If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Steven Malkmus and the other members of Pavement should be feeling complimented indeed after the release of Parquet Courts new album Light Up Gold. Either that or they should demand royalties.
Now, the “nineties revival” is nothing new and there are far worse bands to emulate than early Pavement (and to a lesser degree Robert Pollard, see e.g. “Caster of Worthless Spells”). The early nineties DIY aesthetic, rough production, and nearly spoken word vocals pioneered by Pavement (among others) have influenced a generation of musicians, spawning legions of adherents and imitators. However, the challenge for any act, particularly one that wears it influences proudly on its sleeve, is to use the elements introduced by its predecessors to craft original material that goes beyond mere repetition. Bands that master this process of synthesis and adaptation (e.g. Yuck) can rise above their obvious influences to create new and vital songs. Bands that don’t become Parquet Courts.
It is not that Light Up Gold isn’t enjoyable. In fact, anyone with an affection for nineties indie rock will find plenty to like among the 15 tracks. The band plays with a casual familiarity that shows off the easy chemistry between co-frontmen Austin Brown and Andrew Savage and makes most of the tracks on Light Up Gold immediately engaging. However, songs like “Careers in Combat,” “Master of My Craft,” and “N Dakota” sound so much like Slanted and Enchanted B-sides that one would be forgiven for turning them off and switching over to that far superior work.
In short, this first album shows that Parquet Courts can play. They have chemistry, an aesthetic, and a way with lyrics - they just don’t have a unique identity. Here’s hoping that the next time around they are able to channel their abilities into creating something that strives for more than mere flattery and becomes art.