Release Date: Feb 19, 2013
Record label: Splendor Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
There’s something fantastically empowering about assuming alternate identities—all the “should I should I should I’s” slough away and unseal a second skin wherein mimicry can become proficiency can become its own gloriously winged being. Case in point, Zac Pennington. Leading art-pop/pop-art provocateurs Parenthetical Girls, Pennington contains multitudes—or masquerades as multitudes—the distinction is immaterial as the frontman louches through the wardrobe racks and bulbed mirrors of his own Annie Leibovitz shoot, seamlessly transforming from cardiganed K-Popper to Jude Law dandy, brooding through one setup in sepulchral Goth and vamping the next in lipstick and tussle.
The clue to the composition of ‘Privilege (Abridged)’ is there in the title. Comprising a selection of tracks from Parenthetical Girls’ string of ‘Privilege’ EPs, released 2010–12, this microcosm of recent releases forms a convincing narrative. Gone is the orchestration of 2008’s ‘Entanglements’, though the melodrama of the Portland band’s baroque pop remains.
Never lacking in ambition, Parenthetical Girls followed their heady third album Entanglements with a series of five limited-edition EPs released over the course of 15 months, each one bearing a portrait of one of the band's members and hand-numbered in that member's blood. Once the series was complete, Zac Pennington and company trimmed down the results into Privilege (Abridged), which may not have quite the dramatic sweep of the entire collection of EPs, but does show just how much musical ground they covered on them. Leaving behind Entanglements' orchestra pit, the band bounces from sound to sound, touching on synth pop, glam rock, chamber pop, and show tunes along the way.
It's often said that an enormous amount of blood, sweat and tears go into the creation of things, and artists often profess to leaving pieces of themselves in their work. Parenthetical Girls have done that — literally. Privileged (Abridged) is the culmination of a two-year-long (2010 to 2012) run of a very limited number of self-released EPs hand-numbered in the Portland, OR band's own blood, gathered into a tight and focused pop record.
Zac Pennington, the lead singer and songwriter of the Portland-based indie-pop group Parenthetical Girls, has cast himself in juicy, familiar role: He's playing the part of the amoral, slippery schoolboy, charming and precociously world-weary, fated to be caught in bed in a scandalous tryst with the headmistress or -master. It’s a character he sketches out in pithy shorthand on "Sympathy For Spastics": "Blue-blood, well-hung, and just a touch too young. " Airy, arch, and literate, Pennington's persona is derived in part from Kevin Barnes' sex- positive-doctoral-candidate swagger and half from Morrissey's shuddering mortification at sex’s ickier, more embarrassing transactions.
Parenthetical Girls are out in indie pop’s darkest corner. You could liberally throw the word twee on them for size, but they share as much with Xiu Xiu as they do with Los Campesinos!; they can write a song like “Be Careful Who You Dance With”—one that sparkles and echoes around the hall—but acts more as a trigger warning and a story about bust-up heads. On the Privilege EPs, Zac Pennington’s songwriting pushed harder and harder towards the hubris behind a sweet little song, and (Abridged) collects the dichotomy like a decorated best-of.
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.
It can be a fine line between poetry and pretension, but Zac Pennington’s Parenthetical Girls navigate it well on their latest album ‘Privilege (Abridged)’. The record collects the 12 best songs from the band’s recent limited run of five EPs and features lyrics that are loaded with the overwrought emotion and hormone horror of a teen diary confessional. It’s full of wonderfully written lines, often intimate, sincere and grotesque, and sometimes weirdly anglophile (which other US band would use the phrase “middle-class slags of a certain age”?).
Parenthetical Girls released the first of their five-part Privilege EP series in 2010. The Portland, OR, band only made 500 physical copies of each disc, and all were hand-numbered in the blood of one of the Girls—Zac Pennington, Racheal Jensen, Jherek Bischoff, Amber Smith or Paul Alcott. It was a melodramatic touch that fit with Pennington’s vision from the group’s inception: The founder has gravitated toward the theatrical and morose ever since Parenthetical Girls’ 2004 debut, the vinyl-only (((GRRRLS))).