The Lonesome Crowded West (Berlin): On Parquet Courts’ “Berlin Got Blurry”

Will Schube takes a look at "Berlin Got Blurry," the excellent first single from Parquet Courts' equally great Human Performance.
By    April 13, 2016

human performance

Will Schube is Rainer Werner Fassbinder without all that leather.

Whenever some dude tells you that rock is dead, slap him with a copy of Sunbathing Animal. Or Light Up Gold. Or Human Performance, the latest from Parquet Courts.

Parquet Courts’ music is both innovative and looks backwards—what the best rock music has always done. Sunbathing Animal pairs yelps and aggression with moments of overarching calm and introspection to keep things in check. Keep on coming with those VU comparisons, but Sweet Lou approaches the world with sardonic venom. Parquet Courts singer Andrew Savage is the one being poisoned.

If anything’s holding Parquet Courts back, it’s that they may be a little too smart for their own good—at least in the year or so leading up to Human Performance (out now on Rough Trade Records). They released an album as Parky Quarts for no discernible reason other than to confuse. (Their Parky “Boots are Made For Walkin,’” however, is an instant classic. Just ask my station wagon.) Their last EP, Monastic Living, is an absolute mess. The first real miss from a band that seemed like it never would.

You can hear Monastic thinking. The gears are churning so loudly there’s no room for music to slither on through. It’s an album of ideas, not songs. And this is what Parquet Courts, at their best, do so well: They convert complex and exciting ideas into something tangible and easily digestible. It’s not watered down, just streamlined—mainlined, even. And they’re back doing that with “Berlin Got Blurry,” Human Performance‘s first single.

The bassline is bouncy and the guitar perfectly cheap sounding. A burnt effigy in Morricone’s desert. Andrew Savage’s voice is messy and endearing. His words on “Berlin” work best as aphorisms: “Nothing lasts, but nearly everything lingers in life.” “Feels so effortless to be a stranger, but feeling foreign is such a lonely habit. You can’t crop yourself out of the picture.” And then the reveal: “Well the lens got blurry and my heart started hurting for you.”

And with that, Savage spits out a paradox equal parts silly and sad. When you escape the familiar you’re lonely. When you embrace the foreign, even lonelier. This is ostensibly a love song, as something or someone has left Savage and he turns into a lonesome figure, equal parts satisfied and drowning in his own sadness. He’s in Berlin but the song’s accompanying video cuts again and again to Savage checking in on a payphone call that will never come: “Berlin got blurry as my thoughts hurried from you.”

Savage’s delivery is great, his lyrics better, but with all great Parquet Courts songs, it’s the weird details that shine through. On “Berlin,” it’s the Spaghetti Western meets 80s NYC coke guitar line. It’s only used to bring about the chorus, but Parquet Courts have never been about too much. And that’s why “Berlin” is a wonderful and cleansing re-introduction to the irresistibly cynical Parquet Courts. This is a band that feigns to feign interest. But they care. Perhaps the two divergent projects—the Parky album and the Monastic Living EP—have polished the core of Parquet Courts that re-emerges so nicely on “Berlin” and the rest of Human Performance. Another track that’s just smart enough on an album full of them.