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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Review: Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing

Originally from the DIY indie scene growing out of the online music community of Bandcamp, Frankie Cosmos is the artistic moniker of NYC-based singer/songwriter Greta Kline. If you head to her page, Kline has built an impressively large discography by publishing songs almost instantly after completing them, seemingly without much care of public reception. This style of music distribution attributes to some of the charm her project emanates, as most songs feature Kline and accompaniment unaltered and raw, relishing the human element of music altogether. At over 50 albums deep, most of her work encompasses short bursts of melodies and narratives with hidden gems scattered all around, with other aliases such as Franklin Cosmos, Ingrid Superstar, and Zebu Flur.

Her 2014 label debut, entitled Zentrophy, saw Frankie Cosmos exploring the range and possibility of a full band, where lighthearted songs like “School” and “Birthday Song” struck a chord with a wider audience than previous works. The album was even named by multiple publishers as one of 2014’s best releases, showing Kline that her music was more than a personal patch. On 2016’s Next Thing, Frankie Cosmos moves towards a more professional fashion, capturing the essence of growing past teenage years with heightened production and tightened arrangements of older classics from previous bandcamp sessions.

Oddly poetic in their delivery, Kline’s lyrics consist of the most natural and simplistic subjects, from her dog to love in general, but seem to maintain a wonderfully elaborate sense of connection and consciousness. She charms listeners while offering a keenly transcendental lens on living as a 20-something in the big apple. “What If” sees Kline speculating on the future as she asks her partner, “what would you do for our kids?” Astute observations such as, “When you’re young, you’re too young / and when you’re old, you’re too old” on “If I Had a Dog” find her commenting on the nature of living. Kline seems all too real and genuine to believe, but that’s exactly the kind of game Frankie Cosmos plays.

Besides for maturing lyrically, Kline has honed her lo-fi sound whilst simultaneously branching out to add more depth. Glittering synths fill “Outside with the Cuties” and “I’m 20”, while “Is It Possible/Sleep Song” combines two separate songs altogether (which also contains my favorite line from the album: “goodbye forever / what the fuck?”). “Interlude” doesn’t even have a guitar present, and “O Dreaded C Town” shimmers with rain-like texture.

This maturation may be due to the newfound element of a critical audience not present before, but Kline doesn’t seem to halt under the corporate pressure, maintaining all the likeness and viability of her signature sound without compromising at any point. Nothing on the record seems to be filler (although in a Bandcamp interview, she does admit to having many filler songs unreleased, citing it as a “weird” occurrence), which allows for a breezy flow of songs, much like the car ride fronting the album artwork. Each song seems fleshed out without straining quality, showing experienced restraint. For me, this is also one of the very few faults on the record: I want more! Next Thing definitely cures my Frankie Cosmos fix, but also fuels the addiction further.

All in all, Next Thing adds more fire to the flame as a more accessible entrance into the world of Frankie Cosmos for newcomers, while providing equal quality and longevity for dedicated fans. Next Thing also proves that Greta Kline and co. mean business, even if her music is made to enjoy in leisure. If anything, this release legitimizes Kline as one of indie music’s heavy hitters for 2016 and beyond, and frankly (ha), that excites me a lot.

Top Tracks: “Too Dark”, “Sappho”, “Outside with the Cuties”

image courtesy of Bayonet Records

Review: Homeshake – Midnight Snack

It’s not the easiest decision to leave the world of Mac DeMarco behind, but when the rock and roll lifestyle leaves a lot to be desired, touring guitarist Peter Sagar left it all behind to pursue his own musical interests. For the past two years, Sagar has been creating and performing under the pseudonym Homeshake, and his music is an R&B-infused chillwave experience. After writing his debut LP, In the Shower, back in 2014, Sagar split with DeMarco to focus solely on future Homeshake projects.

Sagar currently tours with his band, consisting of Greg Napier, Brad Loughead, and Mark Goetz. His music offers up a more intimate approach to solo work, and when listening to it, feels like he is playing right in your living room as the night carries on. With his lo-fi attitude and smooth delivery, Peter Sagar and Homeshake may have one of the best under-the-radar albums of 2015.

With the release of his sophomore effort, produced by Jack MacIntosh, Midnight Snack sees Sagar opening up to his listeners, providing them insight on the life he lives with his girlfriend Salina Ladha, who happens to designed all of Homeshake’s album cover art. The decision to fuse his organic sound off his first record with newfound and playful synths yielded a delightful result, as all twelve tracks of this record are sonically pleasing to the ears, adhering to the mantra of, “less is more”. Each track feels like entering a different room in Sagar’s Montreal home late in the evening, covered in masses of blankets to keep warm. In the space Sagar has opened up, it allows him to let his jazzy chords and intricate progressions echo and have time to be fully absorbed as they relate the feel in full.

Opening the record is the quick “What Did He Look Like”, where Sagar brilliantly captures a conversation between two confused partygoers who are unable to decipher who Homeshake really is besides the wonderful moniker. In this, there are hopes to clear the slate for his second album and bring it all to the table as the conversation melds into the next track, “Heat”, where the synthetic timbres envelope Sagar as he sings of being sick of the cold.

With the introduction of the harsh and immediate texture of drum machines complimenting Sagar’s almost monotonous, falsetto croon, songs like “He’s Heating Up!” and “Faded” offer up a stripped back take on going fully electronic with the narrative of feeling disheveled after long road trips. “Under the Sheets” finds Sagar with nothing but his voice accompanied by punchy synth has he churns out the record’s catchiest chorus. In “Love is Only a Feeling” and “Real Love”, he juxtapositions the theme of love with a somber backdrop, leaving the listener wondering if Sagar is doing alright. Anchored by melodic bass and atmospherically warm synths on the title track, the bouquet of assorted drowsiness means to comfort whoever is listening to this album’s highlight; such is the nature of a midnight snack. It seems as if Sagar was close to falling asleep recording the entire album due to the lethargically captivating nature of almost every line and hook, perfectly exemplifying the melancholy of someone on the edge of slumber. He has swaddled the record in drifting tones and airy guitar licks, never rushing too fast so we can all soak it in.

The real genius on the album was the decision to keep more than half of the tracks under the 3 minute mark, allowing Sagar to slip in and out of every anecdote, never overstaying his welcome. The short length makes each song more poignant and effective by comparison, leaving a sweet taste by the time the instrumentally lush “Good Night” slips out of range as Sagar trails off, back to bed. The simplicity in Midnight Snack makes it a beautiful indie-pop dream, and will certainly be on repeat until his next effort arrives.

Top Tracks: “Midnight Snack”, “Heat”, “Faded”