In November of last year, Parquet Courts released Monastic Living, an E.P. which at times felt grating and inaccessible. After the critical success of their first albums, this 2015 release seemed like a deliberate attempt to reject their status as the darlings of NME.
The Brooklyn band certainly seem to care about how they are perceived. In comments that some may consider to be irritating, Andrew Savage (guitarist and lead vocalist) has professed ambitions to be included among the heroes of New York City music: pioneers like The Velvet Underground, Ramones, Talking Heads, Sonic Youth and more. Without a doubt, The Velvet Underground are an influence on Human Performance, Parquet Court’s latest album. ‘One Man, No City” calls to mind iconic VU songs like ‘Some Kinda Love’ and ‘I Heard Her Call My Name’. The same goes for the excellent ‘Steady On My Mind’, an unusually gentle ballad written by guitarist Austin Brown.
The human condition makes for relatable subject matter and this record feels less self-conscious than its predecessor. Here, Parquet Court’s musical style is often fairly undemanding or loose, leaving exposed their lyrics: neurotic musings articulated with elegance and openness. The title track is a prime example. Human Performance was clearly written in the wake of a break-up. It offers the chance to observe Savage’s expert knack for lyricism. Simple lines like “Those pristine days I recall so fondly/ So few are trials when a life isn’t lonely/and now if only” are delivered with a disarming candour. The music follows an equally simple structure, making for a raw, captivating and instantly relatable song.
‘Human Performance’ and ‘Berlin Got Blurry’ are certainly the stars of the album. The latter begins with a catchy Americana riff – decidedly dissimilar to any music style we would traditionally associate with Berlin (the song’s subject). This juxtaposition complements the lyrics, which describe an American feeling alienated and dislocated from the foreign city. Again, Savage’s gift as a poet is apparent in insightful comments like “nothing lasts, but nearly everything lingers in life” and “feeling foreign is such a lonely habit”. Both tracks are noticeably more straightforward than the often hectic sound that characterised some of Parquet Courts’ earlier work. However, their familiar punk sound has not disappeared: ‘Two Dead Cops’ and the digital-only ‘Already Dead’ would feel at home on Light Up Gold or Sunbathing Animal.
This group is keen not to conform to the mainstream and it is admirable that they remain faithful to punk customs, both in music and message. Human Performance is well-rounded, though perhaps not as musically enduring as some previous albums. Despite being less musically complex, the new record is certainly more instantly listenable than what we’ve heard before. This lends more space to appreciate the – often outstanding – lyricism. A new willingness to be exposed gives Human Performance (and by extension Parquet Courts) a charmingly vulnerable quality, which will surely be embraced by fans and newcomers alike.
Image Credit: Parquet Courts, Parquet Courts via youtube.com
Co-Editor of the Music Section at University of Nottingham’s IMPACT Magazine.