After getting a bunch of weirdness out of their system on the Monastic Living EP, Parquet Courts return with their most focused album to date. Human Performance finds the band at its songwriting peak: almost every song is catchy and tight enough to be a single. Kicking off the album with the driving, droney "Dust" sets the tone right away, with its clean production and punchy rhythm section pounding the chorus directly into the brains of listeners. The rest of the album alternates between relaxed songs that evoke the Go-Betweens ("Keep It Even," the title track) and jumpy uptempo tracks ("Pathos Prairie," "Outside"), with occasional bouts of oddball art pop (the goofy "I Was Just Here") and long-form jams (the bongo-filled "One Man No City") thrown in for good measure. Throughout, the band sounds completely at ease; both vocalists prove adept at shouting, but show a strong amount of tenderness and subtlety on the quieter tracks like "Human Performance" and "Keep It Even." They still kick up plenty of scrappy noise, though, and tracks like "Paraphrased" and "Berlin Got Blurry" bring plenty of off-kilter art rock to the mix. The strength of Human Performance's songwriting is matched by its powerful sound. The guitars crackle and chime more than ever, and as they twist and clash, the clarity of the recording really lets the listener feel their electric energy. This is an immediate album that doesn't need a few plays to sink into one's consciousness. The band has always made exciting, energetic indie rock, the kind that jumps out of the speakers and runs around the room like it was hopped up on poetry and Adderall. Sunbathing Animal began the process with great success, and Human Performance shows that the band is just as vital and alive when it dials the intensity (way) down, cleans up some of the messy parts, and generally grows up in all the right ways. It's a career-building move to be sure, one that for most bands is the first step in their inevitable demise. In Parquet Courts' case, it's a step that could lead anywhere -- and that's an exciting prospect.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra