Parquet Courts - Human Performance
Released April 8, 2016
By Kody Marks
Anyone following Parquet Courts probably had the same thought in their head as the release of Human Performance loomed closer: “Will they make another unlistenable album like 2015's Monastic Living, or will this be the proper follow-up to 2014's Sunbathing Animal?” Fans now have their answer, and it comes in a 42-minute masterpiece.
Sunbathing Animal showed us Parquet Courts’ energetic side, but album closer Into the Garden hinted the band was getting tired, with Andrew Savage singing, “Let me step into / My insomniac shoes / Step out the door / Into the garden of my unpaid dues.” Human Performance opener Dust picks up right where the band left off, with some isolated chords over birds chirping, as if the band is making the early morning walk home after staying up all night in those “insomniac shoes.”
After the traffic sounds of Dust clear we are thrown into the title track, a definite high for Savage's lyricism as he engulfs us with mental trauma. By the time Savage delivers the album title in the final verse — “Phantom affection gives a human performance” — the electricity of this band performing at max capacity is evident.
After this we get a song about gentrification, I Was Just Here, and Paraphrased, which revisits the band's disdain for fame, originally touched on in No, No, No!, the only track on the Monastic Living LP with a tune. Human Performance is really starting to sound like Parquet Courts — and then comes Captive of the Sun. Co-frontman Austin Brown is not shy about his Houston rap influence, and it’s clear considering he can spit bars like this in a punk band: “Dump truck man drops the beat with trash cans / Call 911, we got therapy demands / Philharmonic got a first chair car crash / Pan the falsetto to smash the glass / It's a drive-by lullaby that couldn't get worse / A melody abandoned in the key of New York.”
After a hectic first half of an album, Steady on My Mind and One Man, No City provide a break, the latter somehow pulling off bongos as the principal percussion, before diving into album high Berlin Got Blurry. The displaced Texans’ roots are evident in the spaghetti-Western riff that drives the song, the acoustic rhythm and the bouncy bassline. Berlin Got Blurry perfectly accentuates enigmatic frontman Savage's stranglehold on the English language with the end of the first verse: “Cellphone service is not that expensive / But that takes commitment and you just don't have it / Feels so effortless to be a stranger / But feeling foreign is such a lonely habit.” After touching on isolation the song describes being foreign in Berlin with the calming effect of “Teutonic frankness” and the American food: “French fries, hot dog, ketchup main ingredients / Swears in perfect English it's the best in town.”
The tail end of the album starts to sound like Parquet Courts' energy is returning, as if getting all the heavy stuff off their chest woke them up. Savage's intense bark is back on Two Dead Cops, his brother Max's percussion becomes more rambunctious, and the clanging and jumping guitars that defined the band on Light Up Gold and Sunbathing Animal return for all remaining tracks aside from album closer It's Gonna Happen.
Human Performance brings to light a more romantic and philosophical side to Parquet Courts' lyricism and boasts a cleaner production than their previous albums. The album ends on the repeated line “It's gonna happen every single time / So rehearse with me in mind.” A cryptic message to the material in the follow-up? Maybe, but for now, just enjoy this offering from the most exciting band today.