Music » Rhythm & Views

Parenthetical Girls: Privilege (Abridged) (Marriage)

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The subtitle for this fourth full-length by the mercurial Portland, Ore.-based indie-rock group hints that there's more to it. Indeed, during the years since the band's last album, 2008's Entanglements, Parenthetical Girls released a series of five limited-edition EPs. Frontman Zac Pennington has compiled the highlights of that series here.

I haven't listened to the individual EPs, but this 12-song collection of glam rock, chamber-music settings and synth-pop still feels expansive and complete. Pennington is well versed in pop-music history: He quotes the Smiths in "The Pornographer," swipes some African drumming for "A Note to Self" and borrows the classic melody and title of the Everly Brothers hit "Let It Be Me" during the intro to "Weaknesses."

"Careful Who You Dance With" (with its soaring Morrissey-style vocal melody) and "Sympathy for Spastics" hint at the danger of social interaction and the dark underbelly of growing up. Even casual listeners will get the idea that Pennington's songs explore challenging aspects of sexuality—some celebratory, some tawdry—leading to a sense of discovery and emotional catharsis. Sometimes you get the feeling that he wants to indulgently shock the listener with frank language. But just as often the songs reveal a tender heart.

It doesn't hurt that composer Jherek Bischoff provides rich arrangements and grand gestures. Privilege is an achievement simply in that it seamlessly references the work of such different artists as Antony and the Johnsons, Xiu Xiu, Link Wray, Phil Spector, Philip Glass and Depeche Mode.

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