A Parquet Courts album should not be an easy listen. The sum of their dumpster diving parts — fuzzed out guitars, spaghetti western melodies, psychedelic swirlings, lyrical poeticism and paranoia — should make for an arty experiment that, even if successful, should be more interesting than accessible as a record to spin repeatedly. That’s sometimes been the case with some of their previous efforts, but with Human Performance the Brooklyn art punks have found the bridge between bizarre and bewitching and it’s there that they have set up camp.
Parquet Courts sound like a bunch of blue collar kids who started college with a double major in Art and Philosophy only to drop out and play music instead. And that is not meant to be a dig in any way, these guys (originally from Texas) come across as kids you could have gone to high school with — the nerdy cool ones who always had their heads in a William S. Burroughs book, and had paint stains on their jeans. They fiddled around on the guitar on the weekends, and drove into the nearest big city to catch obscure indie and punk bands at venues they were too young to get into and so had to sneak in the back door, which was easy because they knew the bartender… I may have just got lost in a fictionalized tangent about the adolescent years of this band, but that’s just the kind of creative distractions this album inspires.
The foundation on which they’ve built their garage art house sound is built with the bricks of Velvet Underground and Beck, yet they’re more of this Earth than the former and more punk than the latter. They may be able to write a straightforward, jangly guitar pop song like “Outside” or “Berlin Got Blurry,” or a dreamy ballad like “Steady on my Mind” (which is remarkably similar to Foo Fighters “Walking After You”), but it’s when they’re at their most experimental that they seem to be having the most fun.
The title track, “Human Performance,” is an introspective heartache that channels both Lou Reed and Elvis Costello, but uses echo and noise to arise out of the territory of the typical ballad into being something transcendent. “One Man No City” is twice as long as anything else on the record and has a rolling bongo beat and some truly trippy instrumental breaks with a guitar solo that sounds like Jozef van Wissem and SQÜRL’s soundtrack to Only Lovers Left Alive. Album closer “It’s Gonna Happen” is a lullaby leading into a nightmare that showcases Andrew Savage’s dark voice and the depth of sadness that seems to lie within it.
Like Detroit’s Tyvek, Parquet Courts make art punk for people who may otherwise never listen to it.