Release Date: Sep 9, 2008
Record label: Tomlab
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
On their first two albums, Parenthetical Girls played fey indie rock with orchestral ambitions, but on Entanglements they flip that formula, moving into almost entirely orchestral pop territory that only nods vaguely in the direction of any rock conventions. Having secured a stable lineup for the first time shortly before recording these songs, Parenthetical Girls use that stability to make some of their most high-flying, whimsical music. Entanglements's excursions call to mind the Decemberists' hyper-literacy (the album's credits even boast footnotes), the Fiery Furnaces' elliptical storytelling and mercurial musical shifts, and the Wild Beasts' vaudeville flirtations, but the push-pull between arty self-consciousness and passion in these songs are Parenthetical Girls' own.
Entanglements is the album that Zac Pennington has been wanting to make for upward of three years. Originally conceived as the follow-up to his 2004 debut, a collaboration with the Dead Science's Jherek Bischoff and Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart called (((GRRRLS))) -- the songs written for this album had to be set aside because they were simply too ambitious at the time. Instead, he recorded the much simpler (but still stunning) Safe as Houses, which featured Bischoff and his bandmate Sam Mickens.
You can't fault Parenthetical Girls' third album for ambition: it contrives to sound like an experimental modern opera, a glittering Broadway musical, the soundtrack to a 1940s Hollywood romance, a carousing circus troupe and a fragile, solitary torch singer crooning to the moon. Problematically, the band - three multi-instrumentalists and frontman Zac Pennington - often attempt to emulate all those things simultaneously, so that on several songs what they most sound like is a school orchestra of varying competence, every member of which insists on having something significant to do. Opening song Four Words veers about like a ship in a storm, or at least in a pattering shower of glockenspiel, horns and tinkling bells; on The Former, the instruments seem to be engaged in a tug of war, with flutes on the sidelines offering an unnecessary running commentary.
Answering the question, “How much ornate, edgeless indie-rock can you take?” will give you an idea of whether or not you’ll appreciate Parenthetical Girls’ Entanglements. Its vaguely experimental ambitions and occasionally interesting musical flourishes don’t do much to separate it from the mass of baroque indie already circulating, amassing often unwarranted critical acclaim. “Four Words” begins with an instrumental tune-up that gives way to an orchestral assault that mimics the bombastic rises and falls of a Merry Melodies cartoon.