Review: Parquet Courts “Human Performance”
By Luke Forstner
I’ve been a big fan of Parquet Courts since I heard their 2012 release Light Up Gold. It delivered tight, fast, infectious tunes with hardly a pause for breath, and is an album that I still enjoy today as much as the day I first heard it. I’ve been continually impressed with Parquet Courts’ music before and after that release, and was eagerly anticipating Human Performance after enjoying the singles they released beforehand. After listening, I can say one thing: Human Performance is nothing like Light Up Gold or any of the band’s other albums: the songs delve into more complex instrumentation, the lyrics go to darker places, and the pace is thoughtful, more contemplative, and indicative of a band whose sound continues to mature and evolve.
Sonically, Human Performance may be Parquet Courts’ most varied release. The opening track, “Dust,” does a great job demonstrating this: the song opens with a thin, fast guitar riff, which then turns into a repetitive, bass-heavy drone punctuated by the plinks of piano keys, with vocalists/songwriters Andrew Savage and Austin Brown chanting hypnotically and in unison. It does an excellent job of setting up the rest of the album.
This variety doesn’t only exist within individual songs, though: the album itself explores plenty of sounds and ideas. “I Was Just Here,” with its dissonant, off-kilter main riff and abrupt ending with a driving 15-second jam feels like it could be a Devo song. The lyrics about trying to go to a restaurant only to find it closed are a far cry from “Steady on My Mind,” a slow, mournful and heartfelt ballad sung by Brown (and sharing a vaguely similar sound to his song “Dear Ramona” from Parquet Courts’ 2014 album Sunbathing Animal). The memorable and enjoyable moments continue throughout the album: the wailing guitar on “Keep It Even,” the sparse bongos and bleak lyrics on “One Man No City,” the powerful chorus and Mellotron solo on the title track.
Human Performance is slower moving than some of Parquet Courts’ previous releases, but there’s no shortage of catchy songs, insightful lyrics, and interesting moments on this album. “Captive of the Sun” can stand toe-to-toe with any of their many catchy tunes, and “Outside,” though short, is a flash of brilliance that could fit comfortably anywhere in the band’s discography. Nevertheless, I find the quieter, more emotional moments on the album to be some of the most affecting and enjoyable. In the end, it’s an album I greatly enjoyed, and one that makes me even more excited for what Parquet Courts will do next.