Tag Archives: Parenthetical Girls

The Year. 20-16.

20. Port O’Brien – All We Could Do Was Sing
City Slang

You know how your English teacher in school told you not to start your story with waking up? Well, Port O’Brien don’t care what your English teacher says. All We Could Do Was Sing opens with a fantastic, cathartic track called “I Woke Up Today”, sung (or shouted) by everyone in the band in unison. It’s one of those songs that turns into the only thing you can think about for a couple of weeks. Communal and celebratory. Other than this, Port O’Brien do a good line in nautically-themed folky indie. From ‘Moby Dick’ to ‘The Old Man and the Sea’, the ocean has always been an excellent paradigm for the more solitary emotions in the spectrum. Port O’Brien sell the sea myth pretty hard, but the fact that main songwriter Van Pierszalowski genuinely does commercially fish for salmon makes for heightened fascination with his lyrics. ‘Fisherman’s Son’ is a particularly salient example of this, expressing the conflict that arises from having to drop real life and go to sea for several months. The closer, ‘Valdez’, is a short, sleepy ditty that begins with the line “Exxon, Exxon, clean it up” and sounds like it was recorded on a dictaphone buried under a large pile of laundry. The album is varied enough to be continuously interesting, and if ever you wanted a break from the stresses of real life, there are worse places to look for it than Port O’Brien.
This review differs to the others, and is kind of spazzy, because I did it for Analogue right after I got the CD. The original print review, a live review and a full length interview all archived on the Analogue site.

19. Parenthetical Girls – Entanglements
Slender Means Society

A sprawling orchestral pop album conceived and realised over the course of four years by a man who claims not to “know a G from an A”. Worried? Don’t be. The defining moment of this album comes at its very beginning, as if to rebut scepticism and speak for itself before anyone has a chance to second guess it. A piano key is tentatively struck. A few chords are sounded, as if to test not only the instrument, but also the ear of the listener. Then, a flourish of violins and Zac Pennington appears to take it the rest of the way. ‘Four Words’ is very much emblematic of the album as a whole – a vocal narrative of literate lust, familiar from previous releases, but carefully supported by an impossibly complex artifice of hundreds of individual instrumental tracks from bumbling brass to Andrew Bird-esque pizzicatos. One possible criticism is that the arrangements, while all orchestral or at least “big” in some way, don’t necessarily follow any central theme, and the mood can swing between the baroque and the Disney soundtrack from song to song. But that is a small price to pay for a record of such sustained poise and elegance. And the pop tunes are here too, by the way.
Here’s a music video, and here’s a good interview from The Torture Garden blog.

18. Santogold – Santogold
So what is Santi White, if not a high-end cash-in on Maya Arulpragasam’s adoption as culturally “important” in the UK, and as hot shit in the USA? What is this, if not M.I.A.-lite? Let’s investigate – similar vocal style, similar sense of style writ large, but without the pervasive politics and fear underwriting the pulp tendencies. ‘Creator’ is the first single off the album, produced by Switch, the man responsible for much of Kala, and it very much recalls M.I.A.’s atonal sung-rap and dirty beats. But the true standout is the second single and opening track of the album, and it blocks that line of thought completely. ‘L.E.S. Artistes’ is three and a half minutes of perfectly juxtaposed artiness and emotion rolled into a pop song, and it casts its positive shadow on the rest of the album. It’s not Maya A, it’s… Karen O? ‘Shove It’ sees White ride a dub bassline into the future, and ‘I’m A Lady’ comes across like a new ‘Gigantic’ by the Pixies with Kim Deal’s puerile lyrics subbed out for considered maturity and an updated genius pop chorus. The mish-mash of styles that makes up the album could make it awkwardly disjointed, but instead it creates what comes across as a fantastic extended demo-tape to spite the world. What Santi White is essentially saying is that she can do anything, and she can do it well. Compelling listening.
The magnificent L.E.S. Artistes from Pitchfork.tv, and the nuclear weirdness of an unrelated Santo Gold at his site.

17. The Mae Shi – Hllyh
Moshi Moshi

I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this. I just don’t know what it is. You see, I literally walked in on the Mae Shi by accident, having been guestlisted for another band. I missed the write-ups, the historification by blog and trial-by-comments-section that usually characterise my introduction to an American band. So I’m not completely sure what I’m supposed to think of Hlllyh. All I know about their context is that one of them was wearing a No Age bandana, which he gave to Coady, possibly assuming it would be returned. This lack of grounding makes it very hard to know what to make of spazzy, synthy, poppy hardcore with very overt Old Testament rapture influences in the lyrics. It’s more than influence, really. It’s at the point of being a concept album. When the singer says, speaking as God, “they lost the scent, and I don’t even care why they didn’t repent/We need a new creation” on ‘Pwnd’, it’s so left-field compared to anything else I’ve ever heard that I really don’t know what to think. Maybe I’m supposed to be perplexed. I could do the research, but I’m not sure I want to, like the apocalyptic evangelists the Mae Shi reference/are. If missionaries put this kind of perverse pop punk energy into proselytising, I’m sure millions more would be saved.
Only a link to a
previous post here because, like I said, I’m not doing the legwork here.

16. Department of Eagles – In Ear Park

You know what? Grizzly Bear have taken way too long following up Yellow House. That album was, and still stands as, a work of singular originality and genius. But what do Rossen, Droste and company spend their time doing nowadays? Well, Ed Droste leaks Animal Collective songs. And Daniel Rossen? Well, he makes interesting albums with pre-Grizzly Bear bandmates. Much of Rossen’s trademarks from the fatherband are still present: the guitars are split between folky fingerpicking and 50s palm-mute plucking, and the arrangements are largely no different. However, the influence of Fred Nicolaus adds a certain spice, and his Destroyer-esque voice is a welcome change of pace to Rossen’s effortless drawl. In fact, Nicolaus’ ‘Teenagers’ is a definite highlight. There is also, I fancy, a vaguely perceptible hint of GB touring partners Radiohead slipping into some of the lush arrangements. On the whole, though, the mood is the same as that of Yellow House – play this alone, late at night, and let it work its magic.
Plenty (including a rooftop P4K session and a Takeaway Show) to be had on the DoE site and then also a great Daytrotter to enjoy.

A delicate mix of sweat and menstrual blood.

I’ve been listening to Parenthetical Girls since their first album (((GRRRLS))) came out in 2004, or pretty soon after. Jamie Stewart produced half of it (Side A and Side B are the same songs with different producers), so I decided to download it and see what it was like, if only because I was in the first throes of Xiu Xiu excitement and I was riled up to hear anything that had their name associated with it.

It was camper than anything I was used to. There was something about the sincerity in the stripped pop layers that took me by surprise. It was too keyboard-heavy and close-focused to fit in with vaguely baroque pop bands I was into at the time (Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens), and not nearly life-affirming enough to line up alongside the sunny indie (Architecture in Helsinki, Polyphonic Spree). Songs like Love Connection (which ended up covered on Etiquette by CFTPA) seemed to have a sort of body poetry that was different to anything I’d heard before. I’ll block-quote some, seeing as I set the precedent with the Why? post:

Chapped lips, tongue kiss, insert expletive
Fluids of a summer night
With slight duress, forced imperative
Find me quoting Donovan
The delicate mix of sweat and menstrual blood
Seeping into trampled grass

Zac Pennington is the kind of self-obsessed, sex-obsessed, hyper-camp pop experimentalist I can get on board with. Strangely enough though, four years and two more albums after I first heard (((GRRRLS))), I had never actually seen what he looked like. So when he appeared, thin as a rake and bejumpered in threadbare blue, I was… no, I wasn’t taken aback at all. He looked exactly like I expected. First time that’s ever happened.

The set the ( ) girls played was short, with no encore, but it was heavy on old material and there wasn’t a lowlight in the bunch. The revolving cast of Guy In Tight T-Shirt, Red Jumper Man and Kind Of Cute Girl took up duties on various synths, glockenspiel, drums, gamelan singing bowls, autoharp or whatever else, while Zac sojourned into the crowd, illustrating his every perfectly-enuniciated word with a graceful extension of his thin arm.

Among the finer expressions of love and lust was his index finger to index finger measurement of you- can-guess-what during the line “I felt his size, close to a dozen times” from Unmentionables off this year’s Entanglements.

The undoubted highlight, however, was the medley of Love Connection Pt. 1 and Love Connection Pt. 2*. This was called in by Guy In Tight T-Shirt and met with an “are you sure?” from Zac, but they carried through with it and it made my night. Further sweetness was added by the fact that they apparently rarely play either of the songs, nevermind back-to-back with no gap.

The homely, fire-placed atmosphere of the upstairs venue in Whelans added a lot to the experience, as did the impressive Former Soviet Republic in support, and all in all, the gig was as good as I could have hoped.

I’ve been incredibly lucky with gigs lately, but before you say “But Karl, EVERYTHING gets a positive review”, whet yisser appetites for the next post. Where did I go to escape the weekend Whelans crowd? Stay tuned to find out.


*Love Connection Pt. 1 and 2 are on different albums, so it’s not just like playing King of Carrot Flowers Pts. 1, 2 and 3 together. I hadn’t even considered how they’d fit together until last night. Perfectly, as it turned out.