Parquet Courts return to their familiar antagonistic slacker roots on their fifth LP after forays into Swans-esque experimentalism on the Monastic Living EP. Swans are not the only New York natives the Brooklyn four-piece channel on Human Performance, with a pinch of Sonic Youth’s dissonant guitars, a dash of Ramones riotous fuck you attitude, and even a sprinkle of Talking Heads; all hurled together to produce a fantastic LP.
For all the talk of Parquet Courts influences, the band embedded deepest into their sound is evident: slacker/indie darlings Pavement. Stephen Malkmus’s bored drawl and quirky lyrics are alive and kicking in Andrew Savage, while the band also replicate Pavement’s keen eye for a melody straight from the off with some gripping guitar work from Austin Brown on opener ‘Already Dead’. These infectious guitar riffs are plastered all over ‘Human Performance’, like on the country ramble of ‘Dust’ where scatter-brained guitars zip along until whirring into a storm. Rollicking country licks underlie the pessimistic defeatism of ‘Pathos Prairie’, where Savage turns his beam of hate on fickle human nature: “Like how we tell lies//like that we’re sure//that we’ll change”; however, this beam doesn’t reach full power until the ranting moan of ‘Captive of the sun’: “Don’t get out//don’t have fun//living like a captive of the sun”.
The guitars on ‘Human Performance’ range from a sun-flecked jangle on the carefree bliss of ‘Outside’; to the jerky strut of ‘I was just here’ and ‘One man no city’; to the country twang of ‘Berlin got Blurry’. The aforementioned ‘I was just here’ describes the tortuous mundanity of everyday life before erupting into a punk blowout harking back to their birth in the gritty New York underground. Despite sharing the similar jerky, uptight guitars, ‘One man no city’ is a completely different animal, as a funky bass groove accompanies tribal bongos before flowing into a thick sea of hazy psychedelia.
Parquet Courts punk roots shine throughout ‘Human Performance’, never more so than on ‘Two dead cops’ as urgent drums and a droning bass brawl with the unrelenting manic guitar riff, while the title track boasts a semi-raucous chorus against a meandering bassline. The band show a real penchant for unpredictability, deployed in the breakneck tempo changes on ‘Paraphrased’; and whilst they can churn out energetic fun tunes like the fantastic ‘Berlin got blurry’, they can equally throw out a sucker punch, like sleepy album closer ‘It’s gonna happen’.
Parquet Courts’ disdain for the dull greyscale of everyday life is channelled into glorious melodies and scathing cynicism on ‘Human Performance’, reaffirming their status as one of modern guitar music’s brightest sparks.