So far, Parquet Courts has shown little interest in straight lines. Rather, having released four stylistically diverse full-length albums and two EPs between 2011-15, the Brooklyn band veers all over the place, as if they’re in a hurry to capture all of today’s ideas before a fresh burst of inspiration sends them scurrying off in a new direction tomorrow.
Their restless muse has led them through an impish collection of shaggy stoner songs on 2013’s Light Up Gold; the dense and knotty follow-up Sunbathing Animal in 2014; the tossed-off Content Nausea six months later, recorded by just half the band; and the jagged, experimental 2015 EP Monastic Living.
Parquet Courts folds those disparate impulses into 14 new songs (including one digital-only track) on Human Performance, an album that is impressively well-balanced among hooks, smarts and sharp edges. There’s some of each on opener “Dust,” a hypnotic tune piling catchy unison guitars and droning keyboards over a propulsive rhythm that feels like it need never stop. “Outside” is as simple a song as they’ve written musically, yet singer Andrew Savage crams a lifetime’s worth of existential uncertainty into a minute and 46 seconds, and makes you want to hear it again.
There’s a tangle of atonal guitar on “I Was Just Here” that contrasts with the chugging “Captive of the Sun,” which features glimmering arpeggios behind sing-song, spoken-word vocals reminiscent of Beck’s “Loser”-era slacker rap. Beck isn’t the only touchstone here: there are elements of Jonathan Richman’s wide-eyed naïf on the title track and in the off-kilter conversational tone of “One Man, No City.” There’s also a hint of Wilco, thanks to guitar contributions from Jeff Tweedy on “Dust” and “Keep It Even,” a woozy tune that frames Austin Brown’s drowsy melody with jangling folk-rock guitars that suddenly turn caustic on the bridge.
For all their obvious musical ability, the band’s real skill here is blending so many unexpected elements into a coherent whole that is at once adventurous and accessible, even if—or maybe because—you have to hustle a little to keep up.