Sunbathing Animal isn’t driven by one overarching narrative, but it’s trying to tell to a story nonetheless. A multilayered, lyrics-first album full of tricks and turns, resonant images and poignant one-liners, it’s a massive leap from one of NYC’s most compelling new bands. The star of “Dear Ramona” is not necessarily central to the plot, but she is a telling support character. “She ain’t ever gonna open up, no!” goes the slow-chugging chorus, about a cool poet who tiptoes around in the morning and wears sunglasses at night. “Whoever she may be going to bed with, you can read about that in her moleskin,” sings Austin Brown. It’s a funny line (we’ve come to expect those from Parquet Courts) and yet there’s more to read into it.
As that song indicates, Sunbathing deals largely with themes of restriction and limitation versus freewill. “Most freedom is deceiving if such a thing exists…I want to flee but I can only stare,” singer Andrew Savage thinks out loud in double time on the title track, over a tight, rigid drumbeat. “I’m in your control, like a sunbathing animal.” The album also contains some startlingly vulnerable songwriting from a band with a reputation for being arch smartasses, employing repurposed blues riffs twisting under lines about transience and regret (“Always my last night, always saying goodbye” goes “Always Back in Town”) and sprawling odes to decaying romance (“Trust me when I say: ‘Long for something better than this,’” Savage sings on “Instant Disassembly”). It’s the space between that longing and reality that Sunbathing Animal inhabits.