Review: Parquet Courts – Human Performance

Everybody’s favorite post-punk group are back with their fifth studio album, and with that, possible their most focused and enriching release to date. Parquet Courts, sometimes stylized or otherwise known as “Parkay Quarts”, are New York City transplants originally from Denton, TX (a city with an arguably equal amount of musical happening). The band, formed in 2010, consists of guitarists and co-lead singers Andrew Savage and Austin Brown, bassist Sean Yeaton, and drummer Max Savage. A typical Parquet Courts record feautres expertly crafted riffs, steady drums, and vociferous vocals, but there has been a small shift in sound since their last notable release, 2014’s Sunbathing Animal.

After critical acclaim and mounds of Pitchfork cred with the release of both Sunbathing Animal and Constant Nausea in 2014, 2015 saw the Parquet Courts diving into a more rough, experimental, and instrumental sound on Monastic Living, which despite ambitious intentions, didn’t quite hold up in the eyes of most fans. With the release of Human Performance, Parquet Courts have returned to form and succeed to reestablish themselves as indie heavyweights.

Although their sound might be more of an acquired taste, the band can really dish up some wonderful tunes, and that’s exactly what Human Performance does. The recording took place mostly in upstate New York’s Dreamland Recording Studios with a brief stint at the Wilco Loft in Chicago. On this release, there seems to be a heightened level of production, where more than just the typical instrumentation takes the spotlight. On the album’s longest track, “One Man, No City”,  congas are featured in accompanying lead guitar, and a mellophone can be heard scattered on multiple tracks, including “Human Performance” and “Berlin Got Blurry”. The swirling and hypnotic “Captive of the Sun” even has hints of vibraphone. Though sporadic, these new textures give the tracks more depth and allow for an enhanced sonic experience- a wider array for fans new and old to digest.

Logistically, the album seems to be divided up into three parts, where the first and last third are occupied by Savage’s vocals, while the middle is where Austin Brown shines. The guitar work on Human Performance might be some of Brown’s best, as highlighted by tracks like “Outside”, “Captive of the Sun”, and the title track, while tunes like “One Man, No City” and “Steady On My Mind” allow him to further showcase his unique vocals. Brown displays his love of Houston rap by providing these songs with a similar type of delivery, working well in contrast with the involved instrumentation.

In addition to Brown, Human Performance is a step up in Savage’s already impressive and witty lyrical world as well. “Berlin Got Blurry” pays tribute to their Texas routes with a spaghetti western riff whilst simultaneously providing a dense lyrical platform for Savage to spread his thoughts on isolation during travel. The title track, far and away the highlight of the album, is a narrative of a man falling in and out of love and the consequent darkness of his broken and lonely state. The line “No music plays and nothing moves without drifting / into a memory” stings deep within this context. “Outside” could even be seen as this same narrator apologizes and comes to terms with his mistakes, where Savage sings, “Dear everything I’ve harmed in my life, the fault lies on my tongue / And I, take it holy as a last rite”. On the lighter side are the humorous quips of the opener, “Dust”, where the band works to describe the amount of dust around them, along with a nice suggestion of what to do in a situation like that (hint: sweep).

Truly, the content of all that makes up Human Performance is a game changer for Parquet Courts. The array of themes and textures create a bold and concentrated soundscape for the veteran band, and a solid release altogether. It might be too early to tell at this point, but I can bet you’ll see the artwork of Andrew Savage near the top of Album of the Year lists when the time comes.

Top Tracks: “Human Performance”, “Captive Of The Sun”, “Outside”

image courtesy of Rolling Stone

 

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