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Parquet Courts – Human Performance 

August 11, 2016


I have had this album since April.  I started a review months ago and never finished it. Today I have finally finished it off.

I am not sure why I bought this album – I must have seen a couple of good reviews (although I can’t remember). I am only vaguely familiar with the band. I had listened to some of their other albums in the past and they sounded like Pavement (a band I was late to the party to, but that I really liked once I finally stumbled upon them). For some reason while shopping at  Grimey’s in Nashville this past spring I felt compelled to buy this LP.

Buying the LP was a retro experience for me. Back in the day kids, daddy did not have a way to sample music prior to buying. Most of the time the music I was interested in was not on the radio. I would scour several magazines and newspapers for record reviews (printed on paper and not pixels). After seeing a few positive reviews that resonated with my taste I would make a mental note to acquire that album.

In 1980 the cost of a new LP was between $6 and $10 ($18 to $30 in today’s dollars) and a used LPs in good shape were roughly half that.  That suggests that current pricing of LPs has not changed in nearly two generations, whereas a digital download of an album are about half the cost of 1980 LP in today’s dollar. Yet digital seems expensive given there is nothing physical and near frictionless delivery. Streaming services are a bargain today and even more so when compared to 1980 prices – unlimited and convenient access to a near limitless library for a monthly subscription that is about half of a 1980 LP  in today’s dollars (and with Spotify you can feed a family of six’s ears for $15 a month).

Back in 1980 I would have a mental list – I would keep my eyes open for a sale or crate dig for a used copy of something on my list and when I found it I would snatch it. Once home I would place it on the turntable and set the needle down for the first listen.  At this point like it or not you were invested – financially and emotionally. Amazingly I rarely bought a stiff. Whether that was careful research or self-deception, I can’t be sure.

Well this is a roundabout way of saying I come to the Parquet Courts’ Human Performance invested.  And despite how much I love the low-cost and convenience  of streaming  I am nostalgic for the old ways. If I had to rely on streaming for Human Performance, I would have thoughtlessly snacked on it once or twice and moved on. Instead I have listened to Human Performance a couple dozen times and I am only now appreciating it. I wrote the first draft of this post on my iPhone as I listened to Human Performance on my turntable; the final draft was written on my laptop listening via my iPhone so I could be outside on a nice summer eve.  

Well after that long preamble how is Human Performance?  Pretty damn good. My musical taste was primarily formed in the late 70s and early 80s. Parquet Courts seem like they are right out of that period. They remind me of the Modern Lovers, Lou Reed/Velvet Underground and Television. But they also have some late 80s/early 90s in them too: Pavement and Sonic Youth come to mind. But given the current scene they sound original even though they are not. I don’t mind how derivative this is because nothing in rock is original anymore.  All the same this is creative and entertaining music.  Lyrically clever with equally clever arrangements.

Parquet  Courts are a NYC band whose members are Andrew Savage (vocals, guitar), Austin Brown (vocals, guitar), Sean Yeaton (bass) and Max Savage (drums).  They formed in 2010 and this is their fifth long player. They sometimes record as Parkay Quarts.

The album opens with “Dust” a song about dust. The video suggest the meaninglessness of life today – where being busy often trumps accomplishments. Sonically it is very cool song – three independent riffs that weave together. The song ends with a slow burst of guitar noise that hands off the baton to a noisy city street. A very ambitious opening.

The digital album actually opens with “Already Dead.”  A pretty cool move to put bonus material at the beginning vs. at the end. For bonus material this is pretty rich lyrically and has a cool female spoken word section.

The titular track has a great rock chorus. The song opens with a Positively 4th Street sneer:

I know exactly, where I was when I

First saw you the way I see you now, through these eyes, waiting to retry

“Outside” is a thoughtful break up song. The narrator is over it on the outside, but is still a mess on the inside.

“I Was Just Here” starts out with a laconic rap/chant that perfectly captures the end of a bad day. This song ends with punk chorus as punctuation.

“Paraphrased” would not sounded out-of-place on Television’s Marquee Moon.  The song is about being misunderstood – by others, but more importantly by yourself:

Sometimes I

Drop definition from my words

Sometimes my

Speech recalls moments of violence

Sometimes I

Can’t be repeated, I can’t be

Paraphrased

No

“Captive of the Sun” is a nice rocker with some cool textures – including some vibes.  Lyrically it a surreal stream of consciousness.

“Steady On My Mind” is a Pavement-like ballad. A solid portrait of classic male romantic non-commitment.

“One Man No City” has a great Velvet Underground vibe.  The song has cool retro conga throughout and great jangling guitar solo at the end.

“Berlin Got Blurry” sounds like Graham Parker – wordy and gargly diction.

“Keep it Even” provides some great advice:

You got to keep it even, even when

You’re uptight

“Two Dead Cops” sounds like a punk ZZ Top. Lyrically it is a mini-movie.  It points out the police challenge of our time:

Protect you

Is what they want, but

Point and shoot

Is what they do

Nobody cares in the ghetto

For two dead cops

“Pathos Prairie” has a pogo beat and Neil Young and Crazy Horse harmonies.

“It’s Gonna Happen” ends the album with a song that sounds nothing like the rest of the album. Lyrically short, it is sung almost like  a round.

This is an album that creeps up on you.  Going back to my original point (my opening ramble) – if I had not felt invested to listen to this LP several times I would have never have experienced its beauty.  Give it a chance and let it reveal itself to you.

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