Music Reviews
Human Performance

Parquet Courts Human Performance

(Rough Trade) Rating - 9/10

Few bands are as articulate as Parquet Courts, so Dust confounds our expectations right away with sparse lyrics that leave the story unfinished. The music, however, is eloquent enough, an interweaved playing of tense guitars and organ swirls that paint images of urban blight and crumbling tenements. This time around there are more shades and textures to the band's sound, no doubt aided by the album's long gestation, which is quite contrary to the hurried DIY approach of their first recordings. The upshot is a fuller sound that is no less volatile but has the flexibility to nestle the themes and atmospherics. It provides a broad canvas and fresh hues to this portrait of big-city living, where sardonic weariness coexists with raw emotions.

The title track has an emotional resonance that lingers. Though the song is very personal for Andrew Savage, the wordsmith in him takes over as he flips through a painful memory file. The imagery here has a free-flowing elegance that harks back to the beat poets: "Eyes in the fire blink unrehearsed, shield like a house closing its doors, curved in the dark." The words could stand on their own, yet the band's deft playing, with the addition of a mid-song flute passage, match the gravitas. Equally mesmerizing is Captive Of The Sun, where the band's singers rap in chorus over booming drums, the stream of consciousness rant forming a mosaic picture of New York City: "Skull shaking cadences of the J train rolls the rhythm of defeat," repeating like a pulse. Berlin Got Blurry moves briskly with the jaunty interplay of guitar twang and garage organ, the sights and sounds of the foreign city fleeting by as the longing for a loved one takes over. Keep It Even seems like a companion piece, stemming the plunging downward with the belief that all emotions can be smoothed away.

Musically, the band explores a wide range of moods. Outside rolls along with the devil-may-care looseness of Pavement, while I Was Just Here recalls the staccato rhythms of Gang of Four. Paraphrased is a metal scorcher with electronic breaks. Steady On My Mind is sung in the sleepy crooning voice of a bed-rumpled Jim Morrison. But nothing here prepares us for the chilling Two Dead Cops, a first-person account of a violent event that tries to make sense of the current wave of violence while taking sides: "When shots are heard young lives are lost/ Nobody cries in the ghetto for two dead cops."

In scope and length, One Man, No City is the album's centerpiece. The interplay of drums and percussion gives the track a forward thrust that climaxes with sitar-like guitar fills. Though previous songs address the sensation of feeling foreign inside your own skin, of identity being eroded while going through the motions of living, there is a defiance here, isolation serving this time as a practical shield in the urban combat zone. Pathos Prairie carries on the cheerfulness at a faster pace, but the emotions are mixed on It's Gonna Happen, its silver-lining message sabotaged by the dark tones of its arrangement, leaving a feeling of uneasiness hanging in the air.

Cut for cut, this is a triumph of melody and intelligence, with hooks that aren't cute and noise that doesn't dampen introspection, cosmic and prosaic at the same time. Parquet Courts have conquered rock 'n' roll's biggest hurdle: to move forward while staying true to themselves. [Believe the Hype]