Said the Guests: Zac Pennington
by Dan
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


[Zac Pennington is the genius behind (or amongst) the geniuses of Parenthetical Girls. They made an album so beautiful in detail and breadth that it's the reason I want to make a top ten list this year. They're currently rumbling across eastern North America, and they're here in Montreal on Friday. Friendship Cove, 7pm, 6$. You don't have plans, so I'll see you there. - Dan]

I wish it were a more chaste emotional relationship that I share with pop music—a mutual, unweighted dedication unsullied by commerce, criticism, or the chasmic disparity that rests between my life-long veneration and its pure, colossal indifference. And although there is certainly an amount of pleasure and happiness in it, the fact of the matter is that there is an inherent impurity at the dense, unkempt roots of the whole affair that’s enough to blight it altogether: that of a seemingly inexhaustible jealousy married to nearly every inkling of satisfaction that pop music’s light casts upon me.

Or more simply: with virtually every new exhilaration brought upon me by pop music comes a little tinge of resentment at the vast cavities in my personal musical capacity—whether it be that I feel mentally/dexterously incapable of achieving the heights suggested by those I admire, or merely that I didn’t get there first.

I never played in a band in High School. The band with whom I am currently crossing the country (I-94, approaching Eau Claire, Wisconsin) is for all intents and purposes my first proper band, now in its umpteeth awkward incarnation. Before this band, music was tangible to me only by the obsessive collection and cataloging of arbitrary facts and artifacts—its construction an exhausting mystery. The tools necessary for music making—even punk rock—seemed to me to be mostly the product of a laborious exercise in rote that I never had the patience for. [Though it’s certainly not a point of pride, I’ve still somehow secretly managed never to learn to play a proper power chord]. The source of as much teenage frustration as pleasure, pop music was ever-elusive–and oh, how desperately I envied those somehow able to harness the ephemeral majesty of “Doll Parts” or “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” during lunch breaks.

And though I convinced myself that a more reciprocal relationship with music was all that would be necessary to quell the hopeless jealousy that I had come to expect from most every listening experience, the truth is, making music myself has only made matters worse.

Sparks - “Popularity”

Though probably not even in the top twenty-five of the Maels’ countless perfect pop moments, this “Popularity”’s very plainness illustrates more than any other the casual genius of Sparks—the band that has most been at the business end of my increasingly green complexion for the better part of the last few months. The brilliantly inconsequential lyrics aside, the song’s bouncing verse may just be the most perfect melody ever written—had Sparks themselves not written roughly three dozen melodies that better it. It’s so good in fact, that they don’t even fuck around with a chorus—they just tease you with the first five notes until the verse comes around again.

The Moles – “Minor Royal March”

I covet virtually everything Richard Davies touches, but among all of his quiet triumphs, nothing comes close to the whole of Instinct, his largely solo follow up to the appropriately celebrated Untune the Sky. The past few years have seen the expanded reissue of the releases that bookend what for my money is his hands-down masterpiece, but somehow Instinct remains neglected. “Minor Royal March,” the album’s opener, is here chosen somewhat arbitrarily for its undeniable horn refrain, but it should be noted that Instinct—a hiccup of a record at ______—is best viewed on the whole. There is presently no record that I would rather have written myself, and as such, Instinct is something of a cruel joke to experience.

Dawn — “I’m Afraid They’re All Talking About Me”

Though the analogy only goes so far, I occasionally consider my now-ancient affection for Girl Group pop the closest thing I ever came to a substitute for Hardcore—a faceless teenage obsession whose minor variations are mostly only discernible to the fanatical, and whose reach colors, however faintly, the way I hear the vast majority of the music I listen to. Also like most ex-hardcore kids, it takes a real gem to arouse any kind of excitement out of me when faced with a previously unheard single from the era. The expertly compiled One Kiss Can Lead To Another box set unearthed a handful of them, but none quite so gutting as Dawn’s “I’m Afraid They’re All Talking About Me.” Where once I would’ve been hot on the trail of every other Dawn single (and probably the producer’s as well), I’m now comfortable just leaving the particulars a mystery—as shrill, demanding, and haunting as that mystery might be. “Afraid…” milks the classic Girl Group fake-out—the pregnant restraint of the verses, the brief gasp, and the absurd chorus explosion. But the point here, clearly, is the refrain—the best song title Morrissey never wrote, “I’m Afraid They’re All Talking About Me” is all I’ve ever wanted in a chorus. And I can’t believe they beat me to it two decades before I was born.


[Buy Sparks] [Buy The Moles] [Buy Dawn]

Posted by Dan at November 8, 2006 2:42 AM

That Dawn song is pretty clearly the standout of the whole One Kiss boxset, and in the top ten for best songs about paranoia ever, I think (which would be a fun list to make). Been prime mix CD and playlist fodder for the better part of a year. Good call.

Posted by Jeff K at November 8, 2006 10:59 AM

impossible to know more informations about Dawn as complete name, date of birth.
she was born from philadelphia and recorded a commercial jingle for doublemint chewing gum (cf girl group sounds on Rhino records)
thank you !

Posted by sined at November 24, 2006 6:29 AM

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Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

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