The last time Austin Brown was at New York’s Ace Hotel, he was getting fired from his job as a bellboy “for being criminally late,” he explains over bites of bone marrow in the hotel’s restaurant. Rising early was a challenge for him, but don’t ever question the work ethic of Brown or bandmate Andrew Savage, the dual frontmen of Brooklyn’s Parquet Courts: They’re one of the most driven bands in modern rock. They’ve managed at least one annual installment of their word-drunk storytelling and spiky riffs since 2011, growing more assured with each outing. “Any artist who’s excited about their new songs,” Savage says, “isn’t going to want to wait.”
Starting with the 2012 single “Stoned and Starving,” Parquet Courts have become indie standard-bearers, year-end-list regulars and music festival mainstays. Along the way, they’ve jammed onstage with members of Pavement and Sonic Youth—role models for smart bands in search of mainstream success without creative compromise. The Courts’ fifth album, Human Performance, hits on two levels: It’s their most nuanced set of songs, and it comes closest to capturing the explorative guitar storms of their live shows (especially the psych epic “Berlin Got Blurry”).
And while their previous albums presented them as wiseass young New Yorkers happy to let you know they’re too smart to be fooled by anyone’s crap, this one finds Savage and Brown focusing on the heart instead of the brain. The band, which also includes bassist-singer Sean Yeaton and Andrew’s brother Max on drums, took their time on the album, recording in multiple studios while on tour. Savage was reeling from the messy end of his first major adult relationship, and Brown was dealing with a debilitating depression. The latter subject is addressed on album opener “Dust,” of which Brown notes, with a wipe of his hands, “Once you notice it, you see that it’s everywhere.”
With Human Performance, the band members appear to be more comfortable with themselves and less wary of stepping onto a larger stage. After several releases with the tiny New York label What’s Your Rupture? they signed with Rough Trade, the venerable U.K. indie that has brought us everyone from the Smiths to the Strokes. Parquet Courts have a reputation for eschewing social media, interviews and press photographs (instead releasing often deliberately unprofessional snaps), an anti-everything stance Savage chalks up to his childhood as a punk kid in Denton, Texas. Obviously, they’ve started to relax this policy. “At some point, it became easier to take ten minutes and just pose for a photo,” Brown says, “rather than go out of your way to avoid getting a real one taken.”
Maybe they’ve loosened up on the press obligations and made an album containing hooks and piercing observations in equal measure, but that Denton kid would be happy to know the band’s first release for Rough Trade was the EP Monastic Living, an instrumental tangent that’s as harsh as Human Performance is warm. “A lot of people hate it,” Savage says, adding with a smile, “which is great.“