Parquet Courts with quite the ‘Human Performance’
Thom Behrens | Monday, April 11, 2016
One of my favorite songs has always been “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton” by The Mountain Goats. “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton” chronicles the woes and the creative process of Cyrus and Jeff, two friends dedicated to making music and hailing Satan (there’s a moral to the song that will not be spoiled here). One of my favorite lines of the song details, in gloss-over fashion, the band’s lack of strength in their identity in the following way: “The best ever death metal band out of Denton / never settled on a name. / But the top three contenders, after weeks of debate, / were: Satan’s Fingers and The Killers and the Hospital Bombers.” It’s a hell of a song, and though the subject matter fits among it’s acoustic strumming in a misshapen manner, it works in a way that is uniquely American.
So is it with the Denton-borne, Brooklyn-bred art-punking quartet Parquet Courts, who released “Human Performance” on Rough Trade Records early this week. “Human Performance” is the outfit’s third LP, although it has been additionally preceded by 2 EP’s and an LP released by members of the band under the name “Parkay Quartz.” And much like “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton,” “Human Performance” shows Parquet Courts is comfortable enough with their growing fame — and with themselves — to allow for continued fidgeting, both lyrically and sonically, which has proven successful in keeping the group from freezing into the formulaic and stilted death of monotone releases which spell the end for so many similarly profiled bands. Their New York realism, coffee-soaked anxiety and distorted light overdrive pedal riffs all fit in to the Texan sensibilities of lead singer/songwriter Andrew Savage in a way which is quickly becoming a movement towards the reclamation of Americana.
Much like Cyrus and Jeff, who were told they’d never be famous and had to make a plan to get even, Parquet Courts fights on the battleground of existing as an indie rock band in a post-The Strokes New York, just as many garage outfits fight similar battles against a post-The White Stripes America. By this rubric, “Human Performance” may be seen as their biggest success to date. No longer do we see the interlocking strumming and and weaving of “Pretty Machines” from 2014’s “Content Nausea,” or “Borrowed Time” from the debut LP “Light Up Gold,” which are still both phenomenal songs, and both albums very much worth one’s time and (dare I say) money. Instead, we see that as the band grows up their punk and alternative roots go deeper. We see Savage tap deeper into his frank yet flippant The Dead Milkmen-derivative vocal style, as well as the greater prominence of songwriting reminiscent of Television, Orange Juice and other alternative rock titans. These are all tendrils of influence that have always existed in Parquet Courts, but now seen on “Human Performance” with greater synthesis and with more holistically wrapped in their own tired and sandy innovation. Parquet Courts has always been fantastic, and the humanity with which they perform on “Human Performance” proves to the world that they have a bright future of existing as fantastically Parquet Courts. They continue to push the bounds of how to evoke emotion — both positive and negative — within the classical conventions of four-piece indie rock, and continue to do it in a startling yet charming way. Bands like this aren’t necessarily rare Internet age, but rarity should no longer be the rubric for innovation. The severity, the starkness and earnestness both in word and structure of “Human Performance” put Parquet Courts amongst bands whose influence, much like “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton, “will in time both outspace and outlive you.”