On “Stoned and Starving,” one of the highlights from Parquet Courts’ breakout second album, Light Up Gold, singer Andrew Savage details an aimless night of wandering Ridgewood, Queens, stoned, looking for something to eat. He flips through some magazines, reads some ingredients on the side of a probably ill-advised snack … and that’s about it. On the surface, it’s not especially deep, but that’s not really the point. The takeaway was that Savage and the rest of Parquet Courts were almost immediately experts at writing post-punk-influenced songs that toed the line between manic nervousness and the kind of half-lidded cool every New Yorker strives for.
That track always felt like a mission statement for the band, and as they gained popularity, it became clear that part of the appeal of Parquet Courts was that they represented a certain kind of New York band: one that cared a lot about not caring at all, one that was meticulous about being sloppy. Like other New Yorkers that seem to have it all figured out, Parquet Courts was a high-functioning, hyperliterary band that put a lot of energy into appearing like they weren’t high-functioning at all.
In the years since Light Up Gold, the band has released multiple albums and EPs that have, at times, forgone lyrics entirely, or delved even more deeply into hypnotic dissonance. Each album sounds unsettled, perpetually about to boil over with frustration.
When I get Savage on the phone to discuss his first solo album, Thawing Dawn, he tells me he’s currently recording the next Parquet Courts album in West Texas. I immediately imagine him standing on an empty highway, surrounded by nothing at all. Whether or not this is true is beside the point. Purposefully or not, Savage has built up a mythology around himself. An argument could be made for Parquet Courts as a quintessential American rock band for the 21st century: nervous, jittery, awash in the history of city rock music without being beholden to it. An argument could also be made for entering Savage’s solo work — evocative of open roads and a romantic sense of endless possibility, but tinged by a hard life and palpable neurosis — into the ever-shifting canon of great American songwriting. “A lot of my anger tends to go into Parquet Courts, or even just the manic energy New York cultivates is evident in Parquet Courts,” he says. “Thawing Dawn was coming from a more still, quiet place which I haven’t put into my music as often. It’s still an essential part of me.”
In contrast with his work with Parquet Courts, Thawing Dawn borders on laconic. Its songs are flecked with traces of subdued bar rock and alt-country held together by Savage’s voice — a blunt instrument that betrays more emotion than you’d expect upon initially hearing it. “This record has to do with love in the moment as its happening, assessing it and appreciating it and celebrating it, as opposed to the loss of it,” he says. “It seemed like a good challenge to not write about these feelings as a postmortem, but [write about them] while they’re alive and while I’m experiencing them.”
For an album that has to do with love, though, Thawing Dawn feels pretty lonely. Songs like the melancholy “Ladies From Houston” seem to touch on newfound stability (“I’ve got a full ring of keys again”) before swerving toward this hauntingly lonely image: “Thirty years paid in disdain / as I rented the room that my ghost became.” It’s the kind of line that sticks with you before you even realize what he’s trying to say. It’s also the kind of line that might make you misconstrue this album as a breakup record — which it isn’t. “For some reason I was only moved to write about [emotions] after whatever happened — whatever affair, whatever love had already passed,” Savage says. “On the last Parquet Courts LP, Human Performance, you can say there a handful of songs that focused on that side of it. I guess I was tired of that. I didn’t want that to be something that overly defined my songwriting.”
Savage ends “Winter in the South,” the first single from the record, with a touching, plainspoken lyric: “I’ll be 31 next month / and I only want you by my side as I wake.” In that moment, he imbues a small thought — waking up next to someone — with a visceral sense of the here and now. As the song gallops along, these words offer a couple seconds of calm. That they sound so routine is what makes them special.