Even in an absurdly abundant time for brilliant young indie bands, Parquet Courts approach their jittery art-punk guitar buzz with a playful sense of adventure that sets them way ahead of the pack. The Brooklyn-via-Texas dudes have built a fervent following in the past few years by indulging their whims. Sometimes that means wildly funny hardcore rants complaining about social ills like the military-industrial complex, or comments sections. Other times, that means psychedelic drones about mystery girls. On their excellent new Human Performance, they even bust out a vibraphone solo – the kind that makes you hope the rental place doesn’t check for beer stains.
They’re a New York twin-guitar band in the tradition of Television, Pavement and the Velvet Underground, yet they’re also Southern boys with a snotty stubborn streak and zero interest in repeating themselves. They bang out records at a dizzy pace, under their proper name or their side-project handle, Parkay Quarts. Their 2012 breakout, Light Up Gold, was a damn-near-perfect half-hour punk blast, with the guitars of Andrew Savage and Austin Brown combusting in the climactic jam “Stoned and Starving.” 2014’s Sunbathing Animal was more expansive, choogling along a lazy Creedence-flavored hippie groove. Since then, they’ve released a couple of tossed-off quickies – Content Nausea was fantastic, Monastic Living unlistenable – yet both reflected the same boyish eagerness and restless energy.
Human Performance is the first album you could describe as your typical Parquet Courts record – it gathers their best tricks in one place, along with new ones you wouldn’t see coming. Despite the songs’ loose-limbed wit, there’s anxiety and paranoia all over them. The title tune is a disarmingly somber breakup ballad, as Savage power-mumbles about a bleak room, staring at overflowing ashtrays and empty bottles, listening for the footsteps of that girl who’s never coming back. “Captive of the Sun” is a snapshot of contemporary New York malaise (“Trucks pave the roads with amphetamine salt”), and “Berlin Got Blurry” is a nerve-racked European travelogue, full of homesick surf-guitar tremors.
For the big finale, “It’s Gonna Happen,” Savage moans a folky lullaby to himself about how everything will turn out fine. The closest they come to a peaceful easy feeling is “One Man, No City,” where the guitars stretch out for six minutes doing sitar impressions over bongos. Yet no matter how deep they sink into the depths, Parquet Courts always sound so nimble and spontaneous that there’s no predicting where they might end up next.