"Socrates died in the fucking gutter," Andrew Savage memorably exclaimed on Parquet Courts' debut LP. In that inciting phrase, he went a fair way to encapsulating the band's character; a nod to both their amusing intelligence and an image of the strains and disappointments of city dwelling, which have become more pronounced as they've progressed. This post-punk collective are cutting, both in their musical style and in their lyrics, coupling them with dynamics and understanding that show off both these strengths. It can be no mistake that this album is entitled Human Performance as a direct response to their last: Sunbathing Animal. This time around you won't find any songs fantasising about being house pets; it's all about being mortal men and the mental functions that can go awry under stressful conditions. Just look at the cover art, depicting a man in an apartment seemingly melting into a puddle of despair, and you start to understand the struggle they portray throughout.

It's worth starting with the lyric from which the album takes its title; in 'Human Performance' Savage is alone in his apartment, softly reminiscing over lost love, asking "did I even deserve it?" The song sways between languorous longing chords, shifting into vicious fuzz to combine with self-loathing; a keyboard solo floats through like a spectre, and Savage miserably admits "breathing beside me, feeling its warmness, phantom affection gives a human performance." This is a fairly straightforward love song for Parquet Courts, but it really gets inside the psyche of the bereaved. It's not the only time the New Yorkers approach the topic of relationships on the album; the 2-minute 'Outside' is a rough-and-tumble rocker that delivers a rush of images perfectly encapsulating the dejection of a loner. In 'Berlin Got Blurry' they escape to Europe, where Austin Brown is stumbling around with a kebab and a rolled-up cigarette, but he can't escape the sadness and his eyes fill with tears. Parquet Courts have never shied away from comparisons to previously great New York bands, and they honour The Velvet Underground better than ever on the beautifully melancholic dual-guitar twang of 'Steady On My Mind', which wonderfully evokes the feeling of wallowing in previously treasured memories.

While Parquet Courts show here that they can tackle lost love brilliantly, some of the more interesting lyrics come from those where they portray the less tangible mental issues that are rife in modern society. The album kicks off with 'Dust', a song about the ubiquity of filth. "Dust is everywhere: sweep," demands the chorus, while the band bounces about with a sinister joviality that suggests the person will be sweeping endlessly until they've cleared every last microbe. Max Savage makes his first song contribution in 'I Was Just Here', which acutely depicts the disorientation of the rapidly changing businesses on the streets in modern day capitalist turnover. On 'Paraphrased' they present an unhinged smart-alec who lists words beginning with 'para' and then defines them, lining them up to rhyme perfectly: "Paranoid; just a trap to avoid / parallel; never crosses, goes straight as hell." Throughout this highly-strung song, the band repeatedly winds itself up and unspools in frantic release, with the eventual admission "sometimes my thoughts are infrequent explosions."

'One Man, No City' is the album's longest song, and is propelled throughout on brightly popping bongos, and simply ringing chords of growling guitars. The pedestrian gait of the song ties into the mania of the singer, walking endlessly around a city but finding nobody else, convincing himself he's the only one in the whole place. Best of all is the agoraphobic misphoniac of 'Captive of the Sun', who can't escape his apartment to go outside, but is driven insane by the sounds around him. The song stamps around on heavy percussion and bright bells, with Savage delivering a sing-song vocal listing his annoyances; his neighbour's stereo, the garbage man banging around, the J train rumbling below, and more, combining to create "a melody abandoned in the key of New York."

In reaction to these, 'Keep It Even' is the self-directed plea to try to stay sane when things are going wrong all around, but the overwhelming neuroses always get the best of them; "there's a drawer in my house that I try to keep closed - but it's open." For fans of this band, the hope is that this drawer stays open, so more of these little vignettes of modern paranoia can creep out. Parquet Courts' brand of taut, nervy guitar music is the perfect vehicle for these stories, and they expertly build and release tension in their guitar interplay; obsessively measured fuzz and feedback adds to the muddiness of minds depicted. The album ends with 'It's Gonna Happen', a soft relinquishing of tension and an admission that mistakes and misery will reoccur every single time; for fans of the band, we can only hope that that's true.