Parquet Courts – Human Performance
Released April 8th, 2016 on Rough Trade Records
Parquet Courts are a lot of different things. A little bit Modern Lovers, a little bit Guided By Voices, the odd bit of Pavement, some old-world post-punk, the poppier moments of Swell Maps – it all rides a certain smoky nonsense, something borne out of the septic days of the Velvet Underground. I asked them recently on Reddit if they were kidnapped, locked in a room, and asked at gunpoint to choose between Pere Ubu and Swell Maps who their choice would be. Frontman Andrew Savage responded that first, this was an odd outlet for aggression, and second that he would have to be a patriot and choose Pere Ubu.
Parquet Courts are a post-punk band, but they’re an updated iteration of that exploration of what punk rock means. What does Wire and Swell Maps fronted by a deadpan, jittery Stephen Malkmus sound like? It sounds like Human Performance. The opening track, “Dust”, extends a Pink Flag era type riff while capturing a narrative out of the anonymous textures of everyday life. The title track lives on the edge of its own churning emotions, for sure, but it kicks off with one of the most succinct descriptions of love: “I know exactly where I was when I first saw you the way I see you now, with these eyes.” From there Andrew Savage tries to figure out exactly where it all went wrong, with regards to his relationship with both girl and city. Tracks like “Outside”, “Steady On My Mind”, song-of-the-year candidate “Berlin Got Blurry”, and “Keep It Even” tackle the former subject. More interesting are the songs that wrestle with Savage’s hot-and-cold relationship with NYC: “I Was Just Here” wonders fiercely where that Chinese restaurant got off to so quickly; “Captive Of The Sun”‘s Dylan-esque word vomit models the bustle and restlessness of the street; “One Man No City” examines the loneliness of the uncaring hordes; “Two Dead Cops” uses a real double-homicide of police officers in Bed-Stuy in 2014 to talk about the seemingly random and impersonal violence that crops up constantly in urban situations. The loneliness of a failing relationship is thus juxtaposed against the loneliness of the impersonal big city and a constant back-and-forth connection can be established between the two.
Parquet Courts have been on an upward trajectory of, if not maturity, increased awareness of their position as “artists” and of the art that they are creating. Light Up Gold was a mile-a-minute cross between pop punk, post-punk, and early Nineties indie rock a la Pavement and Guided By Voices. Sunbathing Animal followed suit, but on Content Nausea they got jittery, angular, and all of those other words we used to describe post-punk inspired indie rock with in the early Oughts. Monastic Living doubled down on that path, giving us a solid minute and a half of melody before spewing noise for the remainder of the EP. Human Performance brings it back around to the beginning, but with a heavy dose of that dreaded word I disavowed above: “maturity”. The noise terrorism is kept to a judicious minimum and the tempos have lost some velocity, and in this is the structure of a brilliant album.
AND THE REST…
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Mike & The Melvins
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