New York City courses through Parquet Courts’ discography. The quartet that tapped the streets’ pulse on 2021’s “Walking at a Downtown Pace” has long captured the full spectrum of life in the city, from heady exploration to sheer exhaustion. For a subset of listless transplants of a certain age—those who moved there long after the Meet Me in the Bathroom years—Parquet Courts were their house band. Now their frontman, A. Savage, finds the house in flames.
Savage has said that Several Songs About Fire is an album about escape—“a burning building.” It’s shot through with impending departures and monumental changes. Given that the 37-year-old musician finally decamped to Europe after completing the record, it’s tempting to consider it his “Why I Left New York” essay. (“The cantos of my New York years/Are scribed in ink that disappears,” he purrs in “My My, My Dear.”) By turns ruminative and jocular, he grapples with reminders that nothing is permanent: condo conversions, changing seasons, dead friends. Yet while all this might suggest the brainy fury Savage built his name on, his new album plays less like an anxious lifeboat and more like a meditative breadcrumb trail from an old life to a new one, destination unknown.
Savage’s last solo record, 2017’s Thawing Dawn, offered a ragged and occasionally twangy iteration of Parquet Courts’ ’70s rock fixations. Several Songs About Fire is more restrained; the acoustic songs and electric rave-ups alike are simple and sturdy, anchored by his guitar and vocals and tastefully augmented by saxophones, pianos, and a spare, no-frills rhythm section. The material came together in writing sessions in England with Modern Nature’s Jack Cooper and on tour with Cate Le Bon; Savage then recorded the album in 10 days with John Parish in Bristol. That sense of movement is inscribed in its swinging cadences and propulsive drums; the slightly off-kilter rendering of well-worn rock’n’roll tropes suits an album about looking back at home from far away.
Savage’s New York might be a ghost town, population one: “Hollowed face stranger/Just who might you be?/In the mirror, something’s crying/With the same eyes as me,” he sings in the first song’s opening lines. In track after track, he mulls over memories of neighborhood characters and late-night hijinks, contemplating all the ways that the city can grind you down. The lone exception is “Riding Cobbles,” a lighthearted fantasy of European idyll. Several Songs About Fire plays out like a long, messy divorce from an adopted home.
Musically, though, there’s nothing shaggy about Several Songs About Fire. “My My, My Dear” and “David’s Dead” are sharp and hooky—strangely jaunty, even, in light of their downcast lyrics. Most songs, however, unspool slowly and with intent, as Savage takes time to refine both his melodies and his images. He rarely raises his voice anywhere near the commanding bark he usually favors, which makes it all the more powerful when, in the denouement of “My New Green Coat,” he finally pushes into his strained upper register: “Reasons to stay, I’m uncounting them/Because you are the reason that kept me/And I’m taking what’s left of me.” The song is the closest the album comes to offering resolution in its long arc of loose ends. Several Songs About Fire’s snapshots and fragments coalesce here in the picture of a man striking out on his own, not sure what he’s looking for or what he’ll find, only certain that there’s no use in continuing to sift through the ashes.
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