The past half decade or so has seen Parquet Courts rise to become one of indie rock’s key luminaries. Whilst much of the their initial success was built on 2012’s compulsively immediate and addictive ‘Light Up Gold’, the group’s longevity and continuing relevance is down to their refusal to make the same album twice. Between the outright noise-rock of 2015’s ‘Monastic Living’ and the refined, mature songwriting of 2016’s ‘Human Performance’, the group certainly can’t be accused of playing it safe. Between side projects like PCPC and running his own label, frontman Andrew Savage has certainly kept himself busy even taking out of the equation his main band’s rigorous schedule – it’s almost a surprise, then, that ‘Thawing Dawn’ marks the first time he’s gone solo.
In some regards, ‘Thawing Dawn’ is a collection of songs which confound the expectations of even those most familiar with Savage’s previous work – whilst in other ways it feels like a very logical continuation of the themes and styles he has explored and developed for the last few years. It’s an eclectic selection of pieces and one that often feels like an exaggerated, magnified version of the variety found throughout his previous discography. Indeed, upon initial listening, ‘Thawing Dawn’ can appear a rather disparate collection of songs and one that doesn’t necessarily gel with the sort of cohesion found on previous Savage-helmed records. However, give the record some time and enough plays for it to really sink in and the sense of stylistic extremity doesn’t lessen but it does start to make more sense.
It is true that no matter how many plays you give over to the album, the stop-start repetition and crescendoing abrasion of ‘What Do I Do?’ doesn’t appear to be the produce of the same artistic mindset as the low-key introspection of ‘Phantom Limbo’ or ‘Ladies From Houston’ – but that’s no bad thing and it does lend ‘Thawing Dawn’ a keen sense of diversity. Although the album doesn’t boast the same overarching sense of continuity that the finest works from Parquet Courts (or even one of Savage’s older bands, Teenage Cool Kids) have, there’s a clarity and intimacy to ‘Thawing Dawn’ that sets it apart in Savage’s discography. It’s hardly a solo album in the strictest sense – Savage is backed by a band throughout – but it is fair to call the album a sparser affair than many of his previous efforts.
Instrumentation is remarkably spare on ‘Wild, Wild, Wild Horses’, Savage carrying the unabashedly delicate melody with voice alone – backed only by the distant hum of quietly droning keys and minimalistic, reverb drenched drum work. It’s a hugely affecting piece and a definite continuation of the sort of heart-on-sleeve honesty sporadically found on past Parquet Courts albums (in particular the song feels like a distant relative – in tone if not in music – to ‘Sunbathing Animal’s sublime ‘Instant Disassembly’). However, where such personal insights were the exception on past albums they are the rule here.
Indeed, even the album’s sprightliest moment (and arguably the one most typically in the style of Parquet Courts) – the stomping charmer that is ‘Eyeballs’ – seems to be more overtly personal than much of Savage’s past work. It makes sense that perhaps the most interior of all Savage’s work thus far has been collated as a solo record rather than a band effort and the result are a truly engaging, deep listen that more than pays back time invested into it with ease.
Highlights come thick and fast but the particular stand outs of the album are the two longest cuts – ‘What Do I Do?’ and ‘Ladies From Houston’ along with the album closing title track. ‘What Do I Do?’ to some extent harkens back to the fiery avant-rock and blistering sonics of Parquet Court’s 2014 high watermark ‘Content Nausea’ – the song’s juggernaut intensity only bolstered by some of the smartest, most compelling lyrics its creator has yet penned. Meanwhile, ‘Thawing Dawn’ ends the album on a relatively sprightly note; the Beatles-indebted bass line and strident piano chords setting an affecting atmosphere over which Savage once again delivers some of the best lyrics of his career. Lyricism has always been one of Savage’s strong points and even as far back as Teenage Cool Kids’ 2011 swansong ‘Denton After Sunset’ he showed an aptitude for sharp, smart songwriting few possess; but even by those standards, lyricism throughout ‘Thawing Dawn’ excels and perhaps stands as the album’s strongest asset.
‘Thawing Dawn’ is an excellent record and one that manages to offer surprises both tonally and musically to long term fans, whilst retaining a keen sense of solidarity with Savage’s previous work both in and out of Parquet Courts. Although certainly more in the idiom of an introspective songwriter record than any of his past efforts – as such it’s an album that requires rather more effort than any previous offering – perseverance is rewarded with a selection of songs powerfully arresting both lyrically and musically.
The full track listing for the album is as follows…
01. Buffalo Calf Road Woman
03. Wild Wild Horses
04. Indian Style
05. What Do I Do
06. Phantom Limbo
07. Winter in the South
08. Ladies From Houston
10. Thawing Dawn