Parquet Courts began their 2014 release Content Nausea with the repeated refrain, “everyday it starts – anxiety!” And while that track left off at just its start, Human Performance dives in, picking apart the anxieties of modern life with the band’s most innovative and emotional collection of songs to date. Not that that’s the whole story.
“The final product of this album is Exhibit A that we made it through the shit, solved the problem, had the chuckle, took the piss, made up with the other guy, and got home in one piece,” laughs bassist Sean Yeaton.
Whereas other Parquets Courts albums were recorded in a matter of days or weeks, for Human Performance the band took an entire year; it’s the first LP that finds all four band members contributing songs.
Human Performance brings expansive sonic experimentation and shining melodic introspection onto matters of the heart, matters of humanity, of identity. “I told you I loved you, did I even deserve it when you returned it?” singer/guitarist Andrew Savage wonders on the title track. It’s also their most pop-oriented collection yet, coming only months after the release of the largely instrumental Monastic Living EP; a record that was actually made at the same time.
Human Performance is fittingly laced with as much static as softness, with tight-wound percussion pushing along meandering, wistful melodies. There are dazed and disoriented earworms, echoing group chants, downtempo ballads with wired riffs. Lovers leave, existential confusion replaces them, weeks pass, the J train rolls by.
Across six years, four full-length albums, and two EPs, Parquet Courts have always littered their lyric sheets with question marks, interrogating the outside world to varying degrees. Light Up Gold considered peanuts versus Swedish Fish, an introduction of their sharp, young wit and language of mundane, everyday NYC imagery. Sunbathing Animal channeled that language into noisy punk philosophy, raising wide-view questions about agency versus captivity, choice versus freewill. Content Nausea wondered about anxiety and emotional deterioration under the age of big data, in an aptly self-aware way: “And am I under some spell? And do my thoughts belong to me? Or just some slogan I ingested to save time?” And with Human Performance—their fifth album and second for Rough Trade—the question marks get turned on themselves more than ever.