Parquet Courts – ‘Human Performance’ Review

The follow-up to last year’s unlistenable ‘Monastic Living’ EP is a compellingly grim exploration of the human condition

Parquet Courts are at their best when singer Andrew Savage is foaming at the mouth. Live, the spittle flies from his lips as he shoves his face against the mic and batters his guitar. His air of disillusion and mania is what’s made the New York-via-Texas quartet’s indelible punk songs so captivating since they staggered into the limelight with 2012’s ‘Light Up Gold’.

The 30-year-old seems reassuringly unsettled on ‘Human Performance’, which follows last November’s unlistenable ‘Monastic Living’ EP. Opener ‘Dust’ is just about perfect: a four-minute brawl of nervous energy, riffs and lyrics about just how hard it is to keep dust at bay with genius commands to: “Sweep”. The panicky drone at the end makes you think it might be worth Savage investing in a Hoover. Next up, the title track introduces creeping dread: “In walks the darkness,” he sings.

“It isn’t gone and I won’t feel its grip soften without a coffin.” The subsequent explorations of the human condition and claustrophobic New York life are compellingly grim. The jittery ‘Pathos Prairie’ finds Savage rasping about his “fondness for life” being erased before a brutal guitar solo, and over the swinging ‘Outside’ he barks: “Dear everything I’ve harmed: my fault lies on my tongue”. Meanwhile, ‘I Was Just Here’ noisily explores displacement and the feeling of coming home and realising your favourite takeaway has shut down. For Parquet Courts – who used a photograph of the menu from their local Chinese for the sleeve of 2011 debut ‘American Specialties’ and had a hit called ‘Stoned And Starving’ – the disappointment must have been crushing.

It’s easy to simply pore over Savage’s frantic wordplay – which peaks when evaluating kebab-wrapping techniques on ‘Berlin Got Blurry’ – but the music is equally brilliant. ‘Steady On My Mind’, ‘Keep It Even’ and dreamy closer ‘It’s Gonna Happen’ offer unexpectedly woozy respite between skull-smashers like ‘Paraphrased’ and ‘Two Dead Cops’, flaunting the band’s versatility and deviant spirit. The only constant is Savage’s restlessness, just as it should be.