Parquet Courts – Human Performance

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So unassuming that you might assume there’s nothing done here that hasn’t been done before. And maybe you’re right: they’re invoking Velvet Underground’s latter two with the dollop of Pavement, but without reaching the zeniths of either of those bands. But that’s fine because they manage to carve something out for themselves, much like, say Courtney Barnett or Hop Along (all from yesteryear) – pushed to the precipice of complete irrelevancy, these indie rockers push back with informed lyrics and 90s nostalgia as their weapons.

“Dust” opens the album and it goes something like this: enter cute Western riff. Cut cute Western riff; enter bass and drums and a one-note keyboard line (a la Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog”); enter a drawl that’d make Lou Reed proud; enter a guitar riff that provides a counter-point to “Dust is everywhere – sweep!” and later, providing counter-point to a keyboard line. Or they might be saying “Dust is everywhere – sleep!”, turning a charming song about dust into a slacker anthem about the same. By song’s end, they’ve employed car honks that sound like they’re actually just re-purposed guitar feedback, and what results is a whirlwind of sounds that reminds me of Pavement’s “Rattled by the Rush.” Speaking of, Pavement get all but name-checked on the charmingly awkward riff and sleepy chant of “I Was Just Here”: “I’ll cut my hair / I just don’t care”; “You look so nice / Chinese fried rice.” And then the song shifts into a 10-second burst of energy; like they smashed two of Pavement’s minute-long songs from Wowee Zowee together into one.

The album’s title probably refers to the lyrics, which are either charming (see previous examples) or incredibly touching: “Ashtray is crowded, bottle is empty”; “Busy apartment, no room for grieving / Sink full of dishes and no trouble believing that you are leaving”; “Cellphone service is not that expensive / But that takes commitment and you just don’t have it.” But it wasn’t through listening and re-listening to the album where the lyrics revealed themselves as worthwhile, too busy thrilling to the post-Britpop Blur-like choruses of the title track; the bongos pushing the first half of “One Man, One City” or the prickly guitar solo that carries out the second half; the bass-line borrowed from Elvis Presley’s “Only the Strong Survive” powering “Berlin Got Blurry” (or, if you prefer, the bass-line borrowed from James Carr’s “That’s What I Want To Know”), to say nothing of the song’s sun-kissed keyboard hook capping off the choruses; the humid summer night air of “Keep It Even”; the stream of syllables that sonically captures the busy New York streets in “Captive of the Sun”; the whirlwind of sounds during the crime scene of “Two Dead Cops.” And the album’s two softer songs – love-song “Steady on my Mind” and the lullaby-melodies of closer “It’s Gonna Happen” – are both lovely, with the faraway drums of the former and the military drumrolls in the latter nudging both along. So what we have here is no bad songs and a few great ones.

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