Review: Parquet Courts – Human Performance

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Parquet Court's reach new heights with their enthralling new record.

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Although Texan four piece Parquet Courts have always seemed to encourage a systemic and varied relationship to alternative rock, their previous EP Monastic Living (that dropped December last year) anticipated a far more hardened direction than what the band has done with their new record Human Performance. Monastic Living’s messy noise rock traded explosive indie for chaotic no wave thrash, and substituted Andrew Savage’s classic beat poetics for almost impenetrable walls of distortion. Ultimately, the EP seemed to signal the bands transition toward a far less accessible branch of genre, one in which a large section of their following was not likely to follow. With this in mind, the fact Human Performance manages to balance indie pop with abstract art rock aesthetics, and thereby sound like a comprehension of everything Parquet Courts are and have strived to be, makes it something of a surprise. It’s not only a refreshing change of pace musically, but undoubtedly marks the bands strongest and most exciting record to date.

From the kooky guitar riffs that boomerang through its opening track ‘Already Dead’, to its acoustic more sobered finale ‘It’s Gonna Happen’, Human Performance sustains a sound lying somewhere between psychedelia, post punk and slacker rock. This might sound a little disjointed, but in practice it works. For instance, the title track ‘Human Performance’ wavers from clean ‘sophisti-pop’ to murky psychoactive punk, as the chorus swirls with these distorted vocal echo’s that essentially come from nowhere. It should feel mismatched, but it ends up just sounding really refreshing.

The same can be said for Parquet’s varied fingerprints of influence. While tracks like ‘Berlin Got Blurry’ embody this messy smug simplicity, that shine with the tongue in cheek cow punk of a Meat Puppet’s record, songs like ‘Steady on my Mind’ drift with the soft melancholy of early Velvet Underground. Though this may seem disorientating at first, the presence Parquet’s previous incarnations are enough to tie the whole thing together. Traces of Sunbathing Animal’s unconventionally catchy instrumentation, and Monastic Livings heavy, dissonant progressions are heard in cooperation on stand out tracks like ‘Already Dead’, ‘Paraphrased’, and ‘Captive of the Sun’. It’s a shame that although we see a lot of the band’s earlier energetic brand of indie rock on the record, it can often feel somewhat out of place. There’s no real need for punkier tracks like ‘Pathos Prairie’ or ‘Two Dead Cops’, that seem to lurch forward with an energetic, be it all too familiar pace.

Human Performance also proves to master Parquet Court’s “overly progressive” tendencies. Though it’s by far their least repetitive of records, the bands typically progressive structures are this time accompanied by an apparent awareness of not overstaying a welcome, as well-written tacks like ‘Outside’, and ‘I Was Just Here’ surprisingly pull in around the two-minute mark. It’s an interesting decision that not only gives the records more unusual tracks with a little extra room to breathe, while but almost leaves us wanting a little more.

Credit should also be recognised in Andrew Savage’s excellent lyricism. The sheer urgency of his poetic monolog in ‘Captive of the Sun’ is particularly outstanding, as we see Savage reimagine the maddening cacophony of the urban soundscape: “It’s a drive by lullaby that couldn’t be worse, to the melody abandoned in the key of New York.” Moreover, his fluctuating dynamic between dense poetic lyricism, and more reflective repetitions, seen specifically on meditative tracks like ‘One Man No City’ lends the album an extensive lyrical diversity.

Overall, Human Performance manages to be the most refreshing and exciting Parquet venture to date, incorporating the best of previous incarnations to create something entirely new. You can literally hear the band challenging themselves on the record.

Human Performance is out now via Rough Trade Records.

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