Gender identity and uncomfortable intimacy are just hazy phrases for Portland's Parenthetical Girls to knead into song. The band's recent release, Safe as Houses, traverses themes of sex and shame from various perspectives, sung by a male (Zac Pennington) with a fragile falsetto. Surrounded by hauntingly minimal electronic pop, Pennington threads together tales of complicated nocturnal encounters that lead down dark alleyways to stillborn sisters and unexpected suicides. The Girls are rounded out (on CD; the live setup changes) by two other talented Northwest players, Jherek Bischoff and Sam Mickens of The Dead Science, and together they create crestfallen lullabies with woodwinds, glockenspiels, keyboards, and other celestial instrumentation. Houses is equal parts unnerving and stirring in its explicit vulnerability.
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