When Parquet Courts signed with Rough Trade last year, one EP and four full-length albums into their critically-lauded career, it seemed like a perfectly natural next step for the Brooklyn-based foursome. Little did we expect that their first release for the label would be a mostly instrumental tirade in the form of an EP titled Monastic Living, which alienated even some of their most devoted fans. Pitchfork declared the band's future "a mystery, though not the kind it is fun to unravel."
A bit harsh, I'd say, but also officially, with the recent release of the Courts' next project, roundly off the mark. Human Performance, their fifth album and first full-length for Rough Trade, sees the band not only returning to their beloved, melodic indie-punk sound, but also elevating it to newer heights. The 14-track record (including a digital-only exclusive) is a stellar package that manages to be both super consistent and stylistically varied, forming the most accessible album that Parquet Courts have put out yet, as well as the most genuine.
The triumph may be owed to a few things being different behind the scenes this time around: Human Performance is the first Courts album that features songwriting contributions from all four members of the band, rather than just singers/guitarists Andrew Savage and Austin Brown. It's also their first album that took more than a few days or weeks to complete; reportedly, the band dedicated a full year to this record.
The results are exceptionally good. Each and every one of these songs is sturdy and thoroughly enjoyable. Though the production sounds much more crisp than their past offerings, the album's credo is mostly "classic Parquet Courts," if you will. There are hints of the Velvet Underground, the Ramones, and Television—bits picked up from the musical history of New York City, with lyrical references to the dirty, anxious life we live here strewn across the melodies. Their observations are as sharp as we've always known them to be, but there's also a level of emotional transparency that we haven't previously been privy to. There's much more self-reflection at play, and along with it, more emotive singing. In the standout title track, Savage plainly wonders, "I know I loved you / Did I even deserve it / When you returned it?" and it feels—remarkably, for the Courts—vulnerable.
Ultimately, the real question they ask themselves, after pondering the meaning behind mundane actions and "old conventions," is whether everything we do, our entire existence, is just one big performance. But challenging their own authenticity unlocks a candor that sets this album apart from their earlier releases. Human Performance is not just great, as many of their albums have been, but revelatory.