Parquet Courts burst onto the scene with their raucous 2013 release Light Up Gold. Their The Feelies and Television-inspired songs distilled the essence of punk and alternative through clever lyrics conveyed by a monotone slacker drawl over chaotic, messy and fierce power chords. Since that release, people have been waiting for the band to finally make its mainstream breakthrough. With their most recent album Human Performance on the legendary U.K. indie label Rough Trade, they are making their case for broad recognition, even though it seems that the band has lost something along the way.
Parquet Courts mature on Human Performance but end up losing what made them such a darling of the indie music critics in the first place. The frantic, high-energy songs that headlined their best albums, Light Up Gold and Sunbathing Animal, are too few and far between on Human Performance. Every song has a slower and more deliberate pace. The album opens up with “Dust” showcasing this change. A slower pace isn't necessarily bad, but they seem unaccustomed to it. The songs often meander and lose focus.
The following track, “Human Performance,” shows Parquet Courts' most straightforward rock track they have ever made. It starts off promising with a nice delivery by vocalist Andrew Savage which teeters between disaffection and heartbreak. But then the chorus kicks in with the most cliché and trite echo and reverb effects that conjure images of U2 or early '00s pop rock bands. It's by far the most disappointing track in how promising it starts off with the verse, only to have the chorus ruin any goodwill that had accrued up to that point.
Despite the album having vague themes of the night and living in the city (the back of the case goes as far as to suggest to listen to the album at night), the real theme here seems to be disappointment and inconsistency. “Outside” follows “Human Performance” and is by far the best track. However, the short song is quickly followed by the worst track on the album, “I Was Just Here.” It's the most throw-away and boring song and exemplifies one of the flaws of the album. The band is completely willing to experiment musically, but that experimentation doesn't somehow excuse boring music. There's nothing appealing in the song, and a lot of the rest of the album falls into that as well.
Across the board, the songs on this album have legitimately good aspects going for them, which are then offset by being meandering and directionless. “One Man No City” is a great example of this. The first half is, perhaps, Parquet Courts at their best, but at the halfway point, the song switches to a jam that could have easily been ripped from The Velvet Underground and Nico sessions. It drags on for such a long time. It's not that having long solos and outbursts of noise is inherently bad, but Parquet Courts' blatant copy of The Velvet Underground’s style isn't nearly as good and sucks life out of the song.
Human Performance falls far short of Parquet Courts’ other albums. Overall, this is a decent album that is worth a listen. There are glimmers of brilliance that have always permeated their albums. But this is not the Parquet Courts that received the adoration from so much of the music press. These songs largely refrain from wowing the listener. The Post-Punk revivalist trappings are here, and there's certainly experimentation, but it's not a tight package.