Austin Brown shares his journey into sound system culture and deep listening with 5 recent favorites.
Several years ago Parquet Courts cofounder Austin Brown started going to the Loft in New York. There, absorbing the sound coming out of the club’s Klipschorn speaker set-up and remarkable sound system, Brown had a series of epiphanies that helped guide production of the band’s new album, “Sympathy for Life.”
Brown had always been into nice sound systems, but the Loft, he says, “changed my perspective as far as quality listening goes. I didn’t really fully understand the power of it, where you can have an amazing dance party or an amazing listening experience and hear music in a new way. Songs I’d heard a million times, I was hearing in a whole new way. And not just because of volume, but because of fidelity. That really set me down that path and the never ending search for fidelity.”
As he explains the process of imagining “Sympathy for Life” and the connection to hi-fi culture, Brown pauses. “Actually, In Sheep’s Clothing was an interesting origin point for the creation of the album.” Before the pandemic, Brown flew to L.A. to brainstorm the direction with producer Rodaidh McDonald. Brown had a DJ gig out here, and the two spent a few days at McDonald’s listening to records and talking about sonics — “like, Mr. Fingers bass lines that we really like, and this Bobby Konders track that we ended up sampling,” Brown says.
He continues, “There were nights we went to In Sheep’s Clothing to hear the Klipschorns. We were talking a lot about the Loft and club music and dance music and culture. I wanted to bring that influence into the records, and part of that is high fidelity listening and systems. I remember at In Sheep’s Clothing we listened to a Can record, which also became a big touchstone influence.”
During the pandemic, Brown spent nights disappearing into music and deeply listening. At home, he uses a stereo set-up driven by a McIntosh amp, a pair of turntables connected to a rotary mixer and what Brown describes as “these underappreciated Bose 701 speakers from the 70s and do this faux surround-sound.”
We asked Brown to select five recent deep cuts he’s been playing, both at home and during his recent DJ sets, and he offered a mix of new and vintage tracks. Below, he talks about them.
Feater – Socialo Blanco
I don’t know how I found them and I don’t know much about them. I bought that record based on hearing that song, and the first time I put it on was after I came home from the Loft — I think after Halloween two years ago. It must have been pretty late, or quite early in the morning, and I had that record and I thought, ‘Oh, this would be great record to put on right before bed, kind of a wind-down thing.’ I love the intro track, Orlandos, and Time Million.
But then the rest of the album is really wild, experimental electronic that kind of restarted my trip. Like, ‘Whoa, this robot free jazz band is playing,’ I remember thinking [laughs]. Unfortunately, I don’t know very much about them. I guess they’re German. I have a tendency to buy records on the internet when I’m just listening to music. Then they show up a few days later and you forget why or what the context was, and you don’t know until you put it on. It’s one of those presents to myself that I don’t fully understand yet.
Heerlens Percussion Ensemble – Biologic Music
I think I got this one scouring bandcamp. It’s a fascinating record, reissued from a really limited pressing that I guess was in the ‘70s. It was recorded at Herleens University in the Netherlands — this percussion ensemble that was in the school for music at the time made this record. There might have been a thousand copies, and the guy who reissued it said he found it at a record fair in the cheap bin.
In the liner notes, the story goes that he bought it how you should buy every record that you don’t know about: the cover art and the instruments that are played on it. I think the cover art had some X-ray photo of some insect. All the instruments were percussion instruments. Like, ‘Oh, this has gotta be good.’ It’s just a really amazing record. I love the way it sounds, especially those bass drums or djembe or whatever they’re using for those bass drum sounds. The rhythms are almost tribal. It feels timeless.
The Zenmenn – Enter the Zenmenn
This is on a label that I’ve got a lot of fondness for lately, Music from Memory. They’re putting out such great stuff, and a lot of amazing ambient music. I got really into that over the pandemic, when there was a lot of time listening to music at home without any particular hopes of going out. I got really into listening to a lot of ambient stuff — not records I would normally put on with people when we’re hanging out or I was playing at a club.
I paid a lot of attention to what Music from Memory was releasing, and this record has a kind of easy listening vibe. The musicianship is really tops. The song “Homage to a Friendship” is beautiful. It’s something I like to put on in the mornings in the shower and probably my favorite record of the year so far. Definitely one of my most listened-to. The musicianship and the melodies are really interesting, as are their keyboard sounds.
Psy Melyn – Bywyd Llonydd
I got this from my friend Tim Presley, who releases under his own name and as White Fence. He had been spending some time in Wales, either working on one of his records or a Cate Le Bon record. I thought it was super cool what Psy Melyn were doing. It takes influence from a lot of different genres, but it’s like psychedelic at its core, which I really appreciate.
Boof – Rebirth of Gerberdaisy
Boof is Maurice Fulton, the legendary house producer — but basically I think he’s this genre unto himself. I was made aware of this through the track ‘D to the A Train.’ I don’t remember which DJ put it on there, but it was this great mix series that some friends of mine do called Down to Earth. The sounds that Maurice Fulton works with — like that flute and the way that it is paired with the electronic drum sound — is so cool. The atmosphere on the track is stellar. There are a lot of cosmic sounds on that whole record, almost like funk house. But I don’t know how to describe it. It’s just that Maurice Fulton touch that takes it to this other universe that’s really fun to play around it.
Listen to Parquet Courts’ latest album Sympathy for Life: