Sweet symphony

Pub date March 25, 2009
WriterTodd Lavoie
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

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Has the Parenthetical Girls’ extreme makeover reached completion, or are their collective sleeves still hoarding hidden tricks to be revealed in future remakes/remodels?

The Portland, Ore., avant-popsters — formed in 2002 and originally calling themselves Swastika Girls after a Brian Eno/Robert Fripp song — first grabbed the ears of the listening public three years ago with a double-dose of fractured melodies and droning lo-fi noise. Pivoted around leader Zac Pennington’s preening, twirling vocals, 2006’s Parenthetical Girls and Safe as Houses (both Slender Means Society) jumbled childlike whimsy with bit-lip sexuality, electronic glitchery, and dizzying song structures.

Glockenspiels mingle with unnamable blips and squelches, quivering confessions shove up against tense, volatile arrangements — unabashedly fraught with drama, these recordings inevitably garnered more than a few comparisons to the work of fellow art-damaged experimentalists Xiu Xiu. Still, both discs offer plenty of testimony to Pennington’s distinctive vision. Strip away the songs’ tendencies to scratch and scrape, and one can’t help but notice his fondness for playful, extravagant composition.

That said, few could have predicted the baroque gleam-and-shine of last year’s sumptuous orchestral-pop oddity, Entanglements (Tomlab). Having teamed up with a rotating crew of collaborators in the past, Pennington at last finds his ideal partnership with a quintet of like-minded string-lovers. Additionally, more than a dozen classically trained musicians are brought into the studio: the result is a twisted, trilling naughty-boy stepson to Van Dyke Parks’ Song Cycle (Warner Bros., 1968)

Entanglements‘ title couldn’t be more fitting: flitted out in borderline-Shakespearean verse, a tale of young, doomed love unfolds as body parts and fluids are exchanged fitfully and freely among the heaving rise-and-fall of cellos and violins. Pennington’s vocal pirouettes remain as enchantingly fey as ever, particularly when dishing out pearls as snappy as this couplet from "Young Eucharists": "And what such fates we two betray, as your sacred legs gave way?"


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