It’s been 10 years since the passing of one of Pawnee’s — nay, America’s — best and brightest: Li’l Sebastian. The iconic tiny horse, who holds an honorary degree from Notre Dame, passed away at the end of “Parks and Recreation” season three, sending citizens of the fictional city Pawnee and viewers alike into an extended period of mourning. Li’l Sebastian’s passing also marked a pivotal moment in Pawnee music history, with Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) and his band Mouse Rat performing a rendition of “5,000 Candles in the Wind” at the horse’s widely attended memorial service. A decade later, Mouse Rat released its debut LP, The Awesome Album, a largely forgettable yet occasionally touching tribute to everyone’s favorite tiny horse — provided you can stomach 34 minutes of Chris Pratt’s singing.
The opening stretch of the record is replete with certified Dwyer bangers, including the invigorating “Sex Hair” and groovy, growly “The Pit” — both of which feature Dwyer’s endearingly terrible lyricism. Much like the hair Dwyer sings about on “Sex Hair,” Mouse Rat’s music could also be described as “a pretty rat’s nest”: gross, but still in a loveable way. “The Pit,” which fans of the show will fondly remember from early episodes, draws inspiration from Dwyer’s hapless tumble into the pit on the lot next to his girlfriend’s house. “I was in The Pit/ You were in The Pit/ We all were in The Pit,” Pratt croons over a simple guitar line. In many ways, the track perfectly encapsulates the silly, cozy ethos of the beloved sitcom.
Later on the record, Mouse Rat teams up with Duke Silver (Nick Offerman), Ron Swanson’s seductive saxophone player alter ego, for “Catch Your Dream” and “Cold Water.” “Catch Your Dream,” the show’s official theme song for the protagonist’s city council campaign, functions as the musical highpoint of the LP, with Duke Silver’s expert saxophone skills as the track’s driving force.
Another standout track on the album is “Two Birds Holding Hands,” which was released as a single earlier this year along with “The Pit.” Of all the songs on the LP, this track offers arguably the best glimpse into Dwyer’s genius mind, with lyrics such as, “Two birds holding hands/ So much better than the one/ We’ll do anything together/ Even eat some bacon” and “Let’s fly to that restaurant/ Maybe Arby’s is the place to be.”
Much of the second half of the LP is taken up by Mouse Rat’s grunge renditions of old Sinatra standards such as “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” and “I Get a Kick Out of You,” which the band performs on the fan favorite season two episode “Galentine’s Day.” While the song offers an undeniably heartfelt moment within the context of the show, it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which one could listen to six Mouse Rat covers of Sinatra ballads and not emerge from the experience with psychological damage.
The album picks up again a little with the two closing tracks “Pickled Ginger” and “Cold Water.” These two songs are the only ones off the album not sung by Mouse Rat but rather by the alternative rock band Wilco.The former track perseveres as a bass-heavy grunge anthem that steadily builds momentum over its brief two-minute run time. “Cold Water,” the album’s closer, is yet another feature from Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and the inimitable Duke Silver. Together, the two tracks serve as a welcome break from Pratt’s abrasive vocals as well as remain cohesive to the LP’s overall garage rock sound.
In April 2020, “Parks and Recreation” aired a pandemic-themed special episode that garnered 3.67 million viewers. Given the special’s success and the resurgence in popularity of many 2010s sitcoms, some have speculated that the team behind “Parks and Recreation” decided to release Mouse Rat’s debut album as a way of gearing up for a reboot or spinoff of the original show. Until then, we have The Awesome Album to fill the “Parks and Recreation”-shaped hole in our hearts.