By New Times
By Derek Askey
By Mark Deming
By Serene Dominic
By Jason Keil
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Jeff Moses
By Serene Dominic
It's not easy being beautiful. Just ask Zac Pennington, frontman of experimental pop group Parenthetical Girls, whose vocal strains fall halfway between those of Perfume Genius and Lightspeed Champion, complemented with the baroque pop stylings of Belle and Sebastian. Pennington, known for his gender-neutral lyrics and his Morrissey-borrowed wit, pens some brutally ambivalent lyrics focusing on lust, identity, and looking good.
To hear Pennington describe it, his band takes its sweet-ass time releasing records, so it decided to "pragmatically" expand its discography by releasing a series of limited-edition EPs every quarter for 15 months. The five 12-inch vinyl Privilege records were limited to 500 each, were not sold in stores, featured original sketches by Swedish illustrator Jenny Mörtsell and — most notably — were hand-numbered in the blood of the band members.
"I had grown weary of putting out albums in a traditional way and really wanted to be sure that we could release music in a more efficient way," Pennington explains over the phone. "I really wanted to use our time more deliberately and try to release as much stuff over a period of time instead of waiting a few years to get a record finished. The other aspect of putting the record out that way was mainly about making these items as rarefied as we could."
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Pennington calls this process "fetishistic," saying, "It seems like records are increasingly fetishistic, anyway. People buy them, wanting things that are very rarefied. I'm really interested in that as someone who collects records; I understand that desire."
When you consider inking artwork with blood, Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne, who screen-printed his sanguine bodily fluids onto a Wes Wilson-style skull gig poster in late 2010, immediately comes to mind. When I mention this, stating it's not a contest, Pennington laughs and says, "We actually did our thing way before that happened, I think. I think we beat him . . . I do think it's a competition, and I think we won."
For those not vinyl-savvy — tsk, tsk — Parenthetical Girls recently have released Privilege (Abridged), which is shorter by eight songs. Pennington says those tracks will remain exclusive to those EPs, as far as he can see.
Privilege (Abridged) opens with "Evelyn McHale," a tribute to the Empire State Building jumper who crumpled a UN limousine in 1947. Robert Wiles' famous photograph of the deceased McHale has been dubbed "the most beautiful suicide." Likewise, the rest of the songs sympathize with deathly beauty, dance floor anxiety, and punctuated sexuality.
"Young Throats," the most synth-happy track on the album, handles deep resentment and reluctance with frantic dancing — perhaps the best way to deal with social coercion. When Pennington sings, "Bring me the head of my love life" on "The Privilege," you can feel the dismay of dealing with "prodigal fathers" and "broad-stroke sentimentalists." Privilege is one part eternal gratitude, one part warranted bitterness.
"The Pornographer" seems to reflect on a breakup in which one keeps an ex's pornographic images in his or her cell phone, prompting the notion that perhaps anyone who's ever snapped an erotic photo of a lover is a pornographer. Keeping in the tongue-in-cheek style, the video for the song, tagged "NSFW," doesn't actually feature anything indecent. It's shot above the waist as Pennington sings the song and makes orgasmic faces, but that's all that titillates.
As Pennington told Spectrum Culture, it's a commentary on the rise of the NSFW video: "In all of these videos, the NSFW aspect is typically a topless woman who has nothing to do with the band, walking around in the context of the video, which I found a little distasteful."