Artist: Parenthetical Girls
Album: Privilege (Abridged)
Label: Slender Means Society
Parenthetical Girls fourth full-length album, Privilege (Abridged) is actually a collection of songs from their series of 12-inch EPs that have sprung forth from the Portland outfit at regular intervals since 2010. All told, the combined heft of those EPs was twenty-one songs. Privileged (Abridged) trims things down to a svelte twelve tracks (though, if that isn’t enough for you, there is a box set of all 21 tracks plus extras, available on the band’s website). While nowhere near as lushly orchestrated as 2008’s Entanglements, this group of songs finds other ways to carry on the dramatic themes of its full-length predecessor.
The opener, Evelyn McHale shares a name with a young woman who, in 1947, famously leapt to her death from the Empire State Building. McHale’s death became known, thanks to an iconic Life magazine photo, as “the beautiful suicide” and the imagery of such a gorgeous but tragic distinction is evident throughout the album. The literate words and dense storylines of frontman Zac Pennington are the real power of this collection. Evelyn McHale is a gorgeous song that feels like some dark cousin of a Brill Building pop song. Wet with reverb and punctuated by slow-motion sliding riffs, it sets the perfect tone for lyrics haunted by regret.
The Common Touch holds down a stiff staccato beat that releases in the chorus, only to contract again. Careful Who You Dance With has a decidedly more 80’s euro discotheque vibe with a Brian Eno treatment. Next comes For All The Final Girls with its tight, tick-tock groove and
The Pornographer, which shows off the band’s rougher side in the form of dissonant electric guitar and heavy-handed drums. Sympathy for Spastics is more vocal-driven with a very spare arrangement beneath. The minimalism found within is a technique Parenthetical Girls use with aplomb throughout the LP.
Weaknesses, ironically, is a very strong track from the middle portion of Privileged (Abridged). It starts with a cinematic string swell that burns off into well-written pop section with a barreling melody that’s barely contained by the beat. A Note To Self features a hard strummed ukulele (maybe a mandolin) that’s drives a fuzz-folk, almost Neutral Milk Hotel-like tempo.
Young Throats returns to the baroque pop leanings of the earlier tracks and has dreamy, almost childlike backing vocals. On Death & Endearments is nowhere near as morose as the title might suggest. It has an industrial feel, with philosophical questions sung in a quieter voice. The Privilege is a song that falls a bit flat for me. Its soundscape seems to work against the melody and the vocals get lost.
Curtains the aptly-named closer, is not the strongest track on the record but succeeds in tying up the stylistic loose ends. It seems to posses, to varying degrees, all of the elements of the previous tracks.