Parquet Courts – Human Performance (Stream)
by Steven Spoerl
A large handful of great songs have emerged since the turn of April and it’d be a complete disservice to their innumerable strengths to not allow them a mention. As previously stated, these songs will be evenly distributed across all of today’s fixed stream posts. Before putting the latest single from Parquet Courts under the microscope, take a moment to grant the links that are about to follow some attention because they contain great new material from Kalispell, Gingerlys, Christian Fennesz & Jim O’Rourke, Holy Now, Sales, Plastic Flowers, Blessed, Julianna Barwick, and Julien Baker. Now, onto Parquet Courts.
Over the past few years, Parquet Courts have built their entire reputation on a very particular — and very divisive — sound. The quartet cranks out detached-sounding post-punk at an impressive clip and, somehow, they find a way to imbue each release with a staggering influx of life. It’s one of the more fascinating dichotomies happening on the DIY-leaning circuit right now and as the band’s grown, the disparity between what sounds like apathy and what (admittedly unexpectedly) translates to invigorating energy has only grown further apart. “Human Performance”, the title track from the band’s latest record, is the current apex of this dynamic.
A few members of Parquet Courts had previously hit a similar apex with their finest work as Teenage Cool Kids, a small portion of which was understandably revived for Parquet Courts’ (or, Parkay Quarts’) ouevre. “Human Performance” doesn’t just recall those Teenage Cool Kids peaks, it surpasses them with a bracing surge of confidence from a band that’s mostly come to be known for sounding categorically disinterested in just about everything. For the first time in a long time, Parquet Courts sound actively invested in a narrative on an emotional level, injecting the song with a melancholic touch that suits them astonishingly well.
Tellingly, the band hasn’t just turned in their most impressive musical composition to date, they’ve included what is — far and away — the best lyric set of their still-growing career. On a purely narrative level, “Human Performance” is relentlessly bleak and tragically poetic. The opening half of chorus alone, comprised of the lines “Witness and know/fracture and hurt/eyes in the fire/blink unrehearsed”, suggests that the band went all in on this one. In prose, tragedy can grow in scope when it grows more acute — especially when done well — simply because of its immediately relatable nature. “Human Performance” not only succeeds on that level but grows even more resonant by exposing Parquet Courts’ surprisingly fragile humanity.
Easily one of 2016’s most unexpectedly brilliant songs, “Human Performance” is also a gigantic stride forward in Parquet Courts’ continuing evolution. From the bold choices that are inserted into the song when they’re least expected (the flute solo being the most obvious example) to the endearing bravery required to be that vulnerable on a very public level, “Human Performance” could very well prove to be a watershed moment for the band’s artistic direction. If it doesn’t usher in a new era for Parquet Courts, at least they’ll have left us this miniature masterpiece.
Listen to “Human Performance” below and order the LP from Rough Trade here.