PREMIERE: Monk Parker Returns From the Shadows with “Prom”
The Texan is back with more woozy cosmic country from the edges.
A couple of years ago, following the dissolution of his bands The Low Lows and Parker & Lily, Monk Parker left New York and returned home to Texas. He was sick—cripplingly so—and his dreams were dead. Naturally, he recorded a country album.
Parker recovered, and How the Spark Loves the Tinder is a document of honest resilience, the kind of album that radiates a pain so powerful and all consuming that you just assume the entire band was crying in the studio. When we premiered that record’s appropriately titled single “Sadly,” we called it “reminiscent of Phosphorescent at its most narcotic; think Wolves backed by Matthew E. White’s big band.”
Now, Grand Jury is preparing to release Crown of Sparrows, a collection of tracks culled largely from the same sessions. “Prom” arrives at the same sad destination as How the Spark, as you might expect, but it takes a slightly different route. The title sets the scene, and true to form we’re met with a soft waltz that turns like an itinerant disco ball. Billowing pedal steel and slow-flowing reverb fill and fog the space, while Monk croons over the ether, guided by the tick-tacking of a drum machine.
It’s that drum machine, of all things, that gives the song its truest emotional depth. A hazy chorus falls in behind Monk, seeming to confirm the times-lost romanticism of his vocal while horns and strings swell; there’s a sadness at the center of the song, yes, but it’s a sadness that is ornate and humid with the presence of others. But the insistent tap that guides the whole thing, the tiny tap that manages to stay more present in the stage than any other individual element including Monk’s voice, feels deeply, almost tragically, internal and solitary, its programmed rhythm so clearly out of line with the soft sway happening all around it. It’s a reminder, perhaps, of our own persistent ticking, or of the nagging sense of otherness; even surrounded by friends, it implies, we go through our tragedies alone.
Of course, that tragedy can be as simple as teenaged self-consciousness. “I wanted to try to catch that sense of how all natural laws seem bendable, at a certain age… how everything can suddenly become uncanny at the drop of a hat,” Parker says. “You don’t know where the walls are, yet, so maybe there aren’t any (and you’re the first person in history to notice). Anything’s possible. The blank spaces on your mental map are populated with weird monsters. So my ‘Prom’ has certain characteristics of a black hole or the End Of Days—falling stars, bending light, time disjunctions, silent music—but, equally, it’s about how ya gotta wear a dumb suit and lie to your mother about drinking and buy embarrassing condoms you won’t use plus accidentally menthol cigarettes at the Walgreens from that strange lady with the wig who never talks, and then maybe later if you’re lucky you’ll make out in a parking lot with the cute girl from math class that everyone says killed her parents in Albuquerque or something.”
Like proms everywhere, it’s a beautiful, magisterial piece of work that’s destined to end in sadness, and we’re pleased to be premiering it this morning. Check it out below, as well as a grip of upcoming tour dates.
Monk Parker tour dates
Crown of Sparrows is out August 4 on Grand Jury. You can preorder the album here.