Album Review: Parquet Courts’ “Human Performance”

As a fan who has only listened to their second album—“Light Up Gold”—and seen them live once, Parquet Courts’ most recent album surprised me. “Human Performance” does not have as much of a raw or unhinged sound as their sophomore album or live shows, but I still enjoyed it immensely. As is evident from many of my album reviews, I love when musicians change up their sound—subtly or drastically—as much as I love when they stay the same. Parquet Courts does a great job of blending both of these aspects with this album.

Right off the bat, after listening to the whole thing, I could safely say this album has a sort of timeless quality. It is easy to hear Parquet Courts’ influences from The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, underground ‘80s punk and more recent bands. They expertly mix not only these sounds, but many more along with their own original attributes—such as subtly affected vocals and a much tighter, rehearsed feel. These characteristics remain true to their whole discography, but this album specifically showcases their effort to innovate more than imitate.

Part of their major change in sound from “Light Up Gold” to “Human Performance” is their use of repetition, layering and simplicity all used in tandem. Throughout the album, the songs are constructed with vamped ideas—building blocks that are used over and over again until the band decides to switch to a different block. This method of composition makes the album more digestible and controlled than the sound that I am more familiar with.

However, Parquet Courts’ vocals and lyrics are still very similar to their other releases—introspective, slightly dark—not unlike the aforementioned Velvet Underground and Lou Reed. With this more subdued background rather than dense walls of punk instrumentals, one can focus on the vocals much more—a nice change.

While not immediately gripping like the first time I heard them live or on the first album of Parquet Courts’ I dove into, this album was still a success in my book, as it continues to capture the essence of the band that drew me to them, but also incorporates many new elements. I look forward to hearing it in the context of the rest of their discography, but until then, I will continue listening, caught in a daze of head-bobbing and pondering.

Favorite tracks: “Human Performance,” “I Was Just Here,” “Steady On My Mind” and “One Man No City.”