There has always been an overtly punk aura around Parquet Courts’ work despite their ability to weave through the fluxing borders of such a genre. This is perhaps because they carry the same spirit of other, more renown past artists in the 80s. Much of the time they moralize in a far more subtle vein of Minutemen fashion with a beautiful messy garage moments. This all went down smoothly in the past and their 2016 record Human Performance still does, but with far more time spent on owning it. The Brooklyn band spent an entire year in the studio for this album and it shows – more sonically diverse and darkly compelling with no such qualities that instantly take you to that distinction.
Human Performance opens with a familiar feeling as “Dust” has a subversive take on what sounds like drone-like task (sweeping up dust), already introspectively asking questions. The past premises remain the same: Why? Self? Conformity?, but their latest offering sounds tighter with far more expanse than you’d initially realize on first listen. Jumping from one purpose to the next with wiry stamina to boot. It’s evident why this doesn’t quite visibly shaken and muddled as previous outings. While 2014’s Sunbathing Animals and 2012’s Light Up Gold remained generational anthemia, this does not pander to it. It is far more decisive in its direction musically. Developing in a fashion of calmed confidence, it doesn’t rush through with hard-driven garage rock and art-punk clash, instead Parquet Courts tip the line between the two consistently. Human Performance enforces this and it never lets up. Even if lyrically has its bleak take(s) on regret and depression, it never dips into unhinged territory as Savage breaks the simplistic garage tune “Without a doubt /A canceled plan / You understand Just stopping by / Another time I must have lost /My train of thought.” It’s not like Parquet Courts previously tackled these themes beforehand – they have, but not with this type of punchy attitude and snark musical appreciation like in “I Was Just Here,” where the banality of society pushes deep or “Paraphrased” creeping guitar suspension and feedback. It is a match arranged in a crazed style.
Human Performance could be said to be predictable Parquet Courts, but that would be understating what they’ve managed to do here. Instead of complacency the band chooses to keep stretching what is expected. They still retain the atmospheric garage simplicity with not-so politicized delicacy and social stances that never reverse toward the trite. The 14-track album feels much longer compared to their other records due to its slower, refined take. The best efforts are hard to place because of its interrelated lyricism of loneliness, but when Parquet Courts calm musically from somber periods into controlled erraticness you can be sure it is worthy.