To say a band is maturing can come across as patronizing, as though to suggest that its previous albums weren’t fully formed or well-rendered, or that its work were the result of youthful foibles or dalliances. So let’s say that with this year’s Human Performance, Parquet Courts aren’t maturing so much as evolving. They aren’t shedding some previous iteration of themselves but building upon it. The album, released in April, deepens and expands the Brooklyn band’s sound, established in the high-energy punk bursts of 2012’s running, tumbling breakout Light Up Gold and the loud-quiet-loud intention of 2014’s Sunbathing Animal. It’s like the band took the mid-tempo and comedown songs from these records (and to some extent Parkay Quarts’ Content Nausea, last year’s one-off LP from Courts’ Andrew Savage and Austin Brown and friends) and made an entire album’s worth of them. The approach has given the foursome more time and space to explore, song by song, with a patience it’s not yet taken advantage of.
With such patience, the band arrives at more surprising yet measured moments in their instrumentation on Human Performance, like a single, isolated hand drum beat in the Talking Heads-esque “One Man No City”; a sudden guitar accent in “Keep It Even,” an otherwise steady, intimate song about sharing one’s feelings with others; and a fleeting flute solo in the title track, conjuring, of all bands, The Mamas & The Papas. While these songs don’t offer the catharsis that similarly paced tunes like “Pretty Machines” and “Instant Disassembly” did on previous albums, they add another dimension to, and complicate, the band’s sound.
The album also lingers longer in the personal. Songs like “Human Performance,” “Keep It Even,” and “Steady On My Mind” are some of Parquet Courts’ most plain and intimate, with Brown gently singing the latter to a partner he’s away from: “I’ve never felt committed to much / But that don’t mean that I can’t learn.” There’s no denying that Human Performance lacks the manic energy of previous albums, but even without that raw power and immediacy, Parquet Courts are doing something important with this year’s release: staying themselves without merely repeating themselves. Call it growing, call it opening up, just don’t call it growing up.