The phrase “Happy New Year” almost comes off as condescending considering the circumstances 2022 is starting off on. As the third calendar year of the COVID-19 pandemic kicks off with a red hot surge of cases, the east coast indie rockers of Parquet Courts are feeling the anxious weight many of us know all too well.
Fresh off of their 2021 full length album Sympathy for Life, Parquet Courts are back in the studio with a lot of creative energy to be released. Their new single “Watching Strangers Smile” is the second single release of this series of songs, in quick succession to “Black Widow Spider” released in September of 2021. While independent of Sympathy for Life, these two singles piggy-backs on the groups latest album and it’s upcoming tour later this year. Released on January 12, the group has already given a brooding performance of “Watching Strangers Smile” live on The Ellen Show the same day as the track’s streaming release.
“Watching Strangers Smile” boasts the bands signature alt rock bass line that breathes life, angst, and mischief into the 3:50 jingle. The instrumental tone is straightforward, seldom straying from the initial structure. While it houses all the key players of a great PC song, this track may fall short of the well rounded final product fans are familiar with. A blippy keyboard feature keeps the song light and upbeat, a necessary balance to the heavier lyrical themes. Overall, the sound is intact with the wide-range burnout of life in a medical mask.
Front man Andrew Savage’s distinct low-pitched lazy chant vocals are a star in any Parquet Courts song, an element that appears in full force on the new track. However, there’s a note of fear and weariness in the absence of the typical playful disinterest. Lyrically, this song is transparent about the pandemic. A theme audiences may have felt a little off about in the first year or so of COVID waves, but at this point it seems increasingly difficult for artists like Parquet Courts to avoid the subject in their work. The opening line “Watching strangers smile, never knew it was a privilege until the wide fearful eyes was all I saw” speaks for itself. There’s a candid paranoia in the lyrics and looping track that echoes the feeling of being trapped in the maddening cycle of COVID surges and restrictions.
But it’s not all doom and gloom from the garage-punk band. The piece ends on a challenging question — asking the listener how much stake they put in luck as opposed to effort, imploring them to fight the urge to accept that this is our reality now. The audience is invited to rather try the seemingly impossible task of being optimistic about our future. A future that depends on the ever diminishing patience and cooperation of a very tired population to squint and see the light at the end of this long, long tunnel.