Five years, three records: ‘Human Performance’

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(Graphic by Marshall Sunner | Collegian Media Group)

Parquet Courts, a New York City-based punk band, released possibly the most underrated record of 2016 with their fifth studio album “Human Performance.” It was their first of three records with London-based Rough Trade Records and dropped on April 8, 2016.

Now past the five-year mark, let’s look back at a record you might have missed entirely.

This series aims to take a retrospective look at three records from 2016: one that was popular but you might have forgotten, one that you might have missed and one that it’s time to stop pretending not to like.

“Human Performance” only reached 118 on the Billboard Top-200 despite being well-received by critics and checked in on Pitchfork and Rolling Stone’s Top-50 Albums of 2016 at 26 and 17, respectively. Only one song off the record has more than five million streams on Spotify.

Despite the limited recognition, it received a Grammy nomination for Best Recording Package. The vinyl record comes in a gatefold cover with a lyric book insert. Guitarist and singer Andrew Savage — who goes by A. Savage — did all the artwork for the record.

(Nathan Enserro | Collegian Media Group)
Parquet Courts album artwork. (Nathan Enserro | Collegian Media Group)

The 46-minute, 14-song record featured four singles — “Dust,” “Berlin Got Blurry,” “Outside” and “Human Performance” – written and recorded at Dreamland Studios in New York.

“I imagine it’s what recording [The Beatles’] ‘The White Album’ would’ve been like, except the whole band was getting along and nobody’s girlfriend was there,” Savage said to Spin magazine after the album’s release.

The record represents a slight shift musically for the band away from the more discordant, garage jam style of earlier entries towards a more melodic (but still solid punk) sound. The lyrics, though, are still what they’ve always been: bookish, emotional and poetic.

(Nathan Enserro | Collegian Media Group)
Parquet Courts album artwork. (Nathan Enserro | Collegian Media Group)

The band developed a more overtly political tone in their next record “Wide Awake!” but the focus of “Human Performance” is more about the dichotomy of performance and authenticity in everyday life. It’s about love and loss and discontent.

“Berlin Got Blurry,” for example, rides a baseline that sounds like something out of a western, while the lyrics focus on the physical and emotional longing for someone who now feels like a stranger in a place that now feels alien.

The title track focuses on the development and eventual end of a relationship and asks the question: “I know I loved you, did I even deserve it / When you returned it?”

The song goes on to visit the disheveled physical and emotional space that the narrator inhabits before saying that the feeling “…never leaves me, just visits less often / It isn’t gone and I won’t feel its grip soften / Without a coffin.”

(Nathan Enserro | Collegian Media Group)
Parquet Courts album artwork. (Nathan Enserro | Collegian Media Group)

The digital exclusive track “Already Dead” that leads off the digital versions of the record features an instrumental break that begs the listener to:

“Take a moment to connect with where you are. /​ Feel your feet on the ground without looking at anything at all. /​ Just listen.​ Rest with a sense of hearing.​ / Experience the show of sound that is happening around you right now. / Life in Stereo.”

The record does include a few salient societal messages. Savage has long written songs about his dislike of cell phones and screens in general. That message appears multiple times in this record.

The song “Two Dead Cops” represents the major political message of the record and sets up a major theme of the band’s next record: violence in modern society.

It focuses on the murder of two police officers in Brooklyn, not far from Savage’s home, studio and favorite bar. Savage was in the area when it happened, and he tells the story of his experience.

The chorus is about the discord between the police’s message “protect you” and the reality of “point and shoot” in light of police violence in America. The verses focus on the single event — which was reportedly an act of retaliation for police violence — and the way that violence, in general, has taken hold in society.

(Nathan Enserro | Collegian Media Group)
Parquet Courts album artwork. (Nathan Enserro | Collegian Media Group)

“And also, this weird feeling that we all get whenever you hear about something like this in America, like that thing that happens so often that you can’t really appropriately mourn it or react to it. That feeling is the most alarming thing that drove me to write that song because I needed to find a way to mourn this sort of violence that happens all the time,” Savage told Spin.

The messages of the record — emotionally, societally and politically — remain important and impactful nearly six years post-release.

“Human Performance” and six of Parquet Courts’ seven studio albums are available on all major streaming services.

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Hi! I'm Nathan Enserro, an alumnus from Olathe, Kansas. I graduated in spring 2022 with a Masters in Mass Communication, and I graduated in spring 2020 with a Bachelor's of Science in strategic communications from K-State. I covered K-State sports for the Collegian for four years.