Portland, OR-based experimental pop quartet Parenthetical Girls have been steadfast when it comes to blending orchestral elements with, well, “everything else” they throw into their potpourri pop, and they assuredly meet expectations with their new full-length, Privilege (Abridged). The “abridged version” of their preceding five-part Privilege EP series is a mix of danceable synth grooves, lo-fi Norman Greenbaum guitar throwbacks, and Baroque pop. “Careful Who You Dance With” could be a plot description from an episode of Skins (UK), as well as a song featured on Skins, undoubtedly during a rave scene.
Other highlights include the plucked strings on “For All the Final Girls”, the frantic piano chirpings of “Sympathy For Spastics”, and the dulcet tones of glockenspiel on “Common Touch”. The latter, however, quickly mutates into the most experimental track on Privilege, wielding distorted screeches of guitar feedback, eerie, sexy vocals, and a convoluted melody — the song lasts four endless minutes. That’s just enough time to determine that listening to Parenthetical Girls is like hearing Christopher Owens (formerly of Girls) play a Decemberists tribute at the Rocky Horror mansion after drinking a bottle of Nyquil.
Unfortunately, “this king can’t sing to save his life” — an admission by lead vocalist Zac Pennington on “Evelyn McHale” — so his voice magnifies PG’s proclivity for melodrama and stream-of-consciousness lyrics, which can get old rather quickly. Sometimes it’s like listening to the histrionic lamentations of Patrick Wolfe or Conor Oberst. Most of the time, it’s like Culture Club playing the Suspiria soundtrack.
But just when Pennington’s put-on singing voice seems unbearable, songs like “The Pornographer” remind you that Parenthetical Girls have deftly bridled the wonders of popular music into a pastiche of 17th-20th century styles, and they’ve managed to do it in a unique way with each album. It’s no wonder they draw comparisons to so many different artists. Nevertheless, Parenthetical Girls’ knack for taking countless varieties of popular music and refashioning them into imaginative new works of art is refreshing and enviable.
Essential Tracks: “The Pornographer”, “Careful Who You Dance With”, and “Evelyn McHale”