Tellin’ pretty stories: Katy B and Parquet Courts

Katy B – Honey

On the debut she played a young woman out for kicks, meeting her pal Olivia in the bar doing her best to catch up while guys kept interrupting the conversation. Coming ever closer to approximating the anonymous dance singer she never was, the Katy B on her third album lends her voice to a variety of sonic settings: Kate Simko’s sequencers and brooding Massive Attack-esque strings (“Dark Delirium”), Four Tet’s squelched homemade beats (“Calm Down”), Craig David and Major Lazer on a Diplo number (“Who Am I”). Best is “I Wanna Be,” the most traditional house number, a burbling thumping wonder where she reminds a lover that “anxiety’s a bitch, babe” before collaborating with Chris Lorenzo to stretch her vocal like a piece of taffy. With the exception of the last one, which sounds like it drifts in from the wrong disco, they all work, despite the faint chill. She’s testing the range of her high, wobbly voice. Her emotional range too. On “Turn the Music Louder” she reminds listeners that going back to the first song on her debut power is her leitmotif, sturdy enough to undergird the outro version of the title track, a here’s-where-I’m-at journal entry garnished with shakers and guitars. After a British number one album and top five ballad but no American hits forthcoming, a presumptuous move. But this artist called her first single “Katy B On a Mission.” Confidence isn’t a problem.

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

They impressed the hell out of me at Pitchfork Festival last summer, sustaining a strummed intensity that didn’t let up near the beer tent. To my ears there’s little difference between their latest exercise in buttoned down heroics and their pair of 2014 releases; they take their pleasures second- or even thirdhand. On “Steady on My Mind” the bass drum may ogle the third Velvet Underground album but the words and attitude come from Luna’s Bewitched: wry, self-amused. Andrew Savage’s thick cottonmouthed vocals complement the wiry leads just as they have with thousands of Ameri-indie stalwarts whom Parquet Courts emulate, from the Feelies and Fastbacks to the Meat Puppets and Minutemen. Keep it even, to quote one of their songs, is their motto, taken as seriously as prayer. As the list of influences shows, Parquet Courts are a conservative band. They could do this thing forever or they could quit tomorrow, won’t stop me from hearing better riffs on an Eric Church album. But Church hasn’t written “Berlin Got Blurry,” about a trip that goes wrong because Savage can’t put his arms around a memory. And it’s got a twang solo! Choice lines: “Berlin got blurry/When my eyes started telling it to.”

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