As much as they might play it off, Brooklyn’s Parquet Courts have become pros at making nonchalance sound calculated. From the foursome’s Light Up Gold postpunk breakout to their side game as Parkay Quarts up through their mostly vocal-less, experimental-noise foray Monastic Living, apathy reigns supreme as the mundanity of the urban slog—and the fleeting relationships built within its bubble—gets poked at and prodded by almost delighted Richman-esque soliloquies. Still, what’s most prominent on Human Performance, Parquet Courts’ first full-length record since leveling up to Rough Trade, is how its undercurrent of anxiety and paranoia—forged by the arrangements and relayed via the lyrics of Andrew Savage and Austin Brown—precipitates an indifference that becomes even more engaging thanks to its sophistication.
That’s some pretty fancy philosophical conjecture right there, but beginning with album opener “Dust”—and the album art designed by Savage—the band paints a sunny picture of what a monotony-filled purgatory might feel like. The track’s deadpan march is kept in stride by a stark guitar hook and chugging, floor-tom-heavy rhythm as lyrics comment on the ever-present grind—how though you might be diligent in sweeping away poison, it’ll just keep on piling up ad infinitum. It’s a fitting start to an album that shows off a Parquet Courts that doesn’t want to fudge with the familiar post-punk sound of Light Up Gold and its successor Sunbathing Animal, as much as chop it down and build it back up.
The following title track kicks off as an off-kilter poetic ballad before Parquet Courts’ grandest pop chorus to date sweeps down. Augmented by a staggering beat, blown-out fuzz that sounds like celluloid burning, and layered, anthemic vocals coated in effects, it throttles the breezy vibe first laid out by Savage. Dives like the disjointed postpunk track “I Was Just Here”—morose in tone before getting pleasantly shocked into coherence at the end—and “Captive Of The Sun,” loosely tied together by a cycling drum-circle-like rhythm and lyrics contented with disenchantment (“I don’t get out, I don’t have fun / Living like a captive of the sun”), represent the album’s bizarre and inventive sidesteps, held steady by a kind of monotone in both vocals and message.
Those tracks are like coveted smoke breaks, the need to shake off some wigged-out nerves and take a welcome breather, but Human Performance as a whole feels less rigid (and abrasive) and more personal in how it deals with restlessness and dread. Sitting right in the middle of the album, the six-minute-plus “One Man, No City” is the longest track of the bunch, though that feels appropriate considering how it appears fixated on the ramblin’ man coming to grips with his rule of the endless road. Similar “Berlin Got Blurry,” one of the record’s catchiest and bouncier jams, ponders detachment and loneliness in a wholly self-aware, almost self-deprecating way. Because Parquet Courts are nothing if not self-aware—though they might be up to argue about whether or not that’s a good thing.