The Parson Red Heads
n the Wu-Tang manual, the RZA confessed that he used to make certain albums hoping they’d come out in the wintertime. He describes Liquid Swords, for example, as being a “winter-up-in-your face joint….songs like “Cold World,” with the wind blowing, I want people to be in their cars…just shivering.”
King Giraffe is not a “winter-up-in your face joint.” And for good reason. Rural Oregon, where most of the Parsons grew up, is a long way off from NYC. As is Los Angeles, where the six-piece psychedelic folk rockers currently reside. So on some level, you can forgive the band for writing lyrics like “every day the sun comes out and I see the world in blue and brown.” Just don’t tell them that in Manhattan tonight, the mercury will plummet to -9 degrees Fahrenheit.
Indeed, the Parson’s debut has the feel of a bright blue summer day melting into a cotton-candy pink twilight—11 songs and 45 minutes of Byrdsian jangle, super ball bouncy bass lines, stone-washed four-piece harmonies, and the occasional drowsy slide guitar lick. It’s the ideal soundtrack to a lazy afternoon cookout, with filets and BBQ-sauce smothered chicken breasts on the grill, a Corona with lime tucked into your palm.
Parson’s make no secret about trying to build upon the city’s laid-back legacy, relentlessly channeling the spirit of the Byrds, CSNY, and Gram Parsons. Indeed the album chugs along so velvet-soft and painless that its show-stopper, “Full Moon,” (a centerpiece of the band’s dynamic live show) creeps up on you with its graveyard lyrics, serpentine Zombies keyboards, and twisting miasma of psychedelic guitars. Dropping their optimism for a moment, Way and his sister Erin, the band’s keyboardist, talk murder (“When are you gonna get a gun / When are you gonna find someone to use it on?”), as the band finally lets loose, unleashing a primal squall of feedback that leads one to believe that bigger things might one day be in store for these kids.
The album isn’t perfect. Lyrically, the Parsons remain a work in progress, with Evan Way still prone to cliché (“I’m always alright / You are the ground beneath my feet”) and other than the aforementioned “Full Moon,” they fail to display much in the way of depth. But their music is a different story. Like their fellow Los Angeles buzz bands du jour, the Broken West and the Little Ones, the Parsons have an intuitive sense of melody, dropping big sing-a-long hooks and rat-a-tat rhythms seemingly at will. “Days of My Youth” and its nostalgia for 1966 begs to be snatched up to sell Volvos to Baby Boomers, while “Punctual as Usual” and its “always being on time” chorus has enough rubbery bass lines and sugary harmonies to peddle a million wristwatches.
With their snazzy all-white stage costumes and vaguely cultish Danielson feel, the Parsons have already built up a sizeable following of Eastsiders drawn in by their kinetic stage shows (not to mention the fact that their drummer, Brette Marie Gentry, bears a strong resemblance to hipster nation heartthrob, Jenny Lewis.) And from the polished, worn-in feel of King Giraffe, it’s not hard to see why. It’s just too bad it’ll take five more months for the damn thing to sound right.