Human Performance (Rough Trade)
In a “Kids in the Hall” skit, a sarcastic- sounding partygoer struggles to explain that his vocal tone is just a tragic defect, haplessly sneering, “Oh, no, I really want to be your friend!” Parquet Courts’ Andrew Savage might know the feeling. His deadpan declamations are easily labeled ironic—and yes, early fave “Stoned and Starving” might have set a certain vibe. But on Human Performance he essays the personal with perplexed sincerity. Peel back early-Devo homage “I Was Just Here” and you’ll find a lament for things that slip away when you’re not paying attention—a Chinese restaurant, a romance.
Anyway, enjoying Parquet Courts doesn’t require attention to lyrics. The Brooklyn quartet’s specialty is urgent, grooving indie rock, and Human Performance has plenty of it, with forays into spaghetti western twang, Velvets-y guitar scribble and, unfortunately but briefly, slacker rap. Parquet Courts plays the Jefferson on May 18, and B Boys, who just released the snarling, stomping, post-punk debut No Worry No Mind, open the show.
Sonny and the Sunsets
Moods Baby Moods (Polyvinyl)
On “Modern Age,” Sonny Smith provides the perfect epigram for his latest album. “I found a piece of art in the trash / I don’t know anything about art.” On one hand, don’t you believe it—Smith moves in rarefied circles, having worked with Ed Ruscha and Miranda July. On the other, Smith’s restless, almost reckless production—including the audacious one-off project 100 Records—implies a disdain for such bounded categories as art and trash.
If that sounds like a caveat, well, sometimes the shoe fits. Smith covers some heavy themes here—ecological disaster, media saturation, human nature—but his vocals are so unvaryingly limp it’s breathtaking—he doesn’t even sound fully awake. Thankfully, Moods Baby Moods is a more fitting title for the Sunsets’ backing tracks, as they flutter and dip, perching on faux-disco, ’60s dream pop and punchy new wave—special props to bassist Shayde Sartin, on loan from The Fresh & Onlys. But overall, Moods Baby Moods ends up sounding like a less-rigorous Ariel Pink: all art, no craft.
Hello Friends (Rice is Nice)
Australia’s Stephanie Crase records as Summer Flake, and with Hello Friends she might have made the modest masterpiece of the season. Her songs are familiar but fresh; her vocals are unassuming but affecting; and her guitar work rides along comfortably in the background until something breaks through and you think, “Damn, that’s good guitar.” Hello Friends sounds a bit like Yo La Tengo in its quieter moods, an alchemy of languid girl-group pop and soft psych, shot through with the mellower end of surf-rock; on “Make Your Way Back to Me,” Crase even adds flashes of grunge and alt-country.
It all works. The prevailing mood is wistful but not sappy—Crase is even capable of a bit of menace on the moody “Shoot and Score.” But throughout, her voice is a lesson in restraint: nestled in the mix, syllables drawn out to smudge the lyrics. Languid, tasteful and patient, Hello Friends gets better as it goes on—it’s an album you can hang out with.—Nick Rubin