In certain respects, the new self-titled record by Cincinnati trio Tweens harkens back to some of punk rock’s most primordial roots. Tweens remind listeners of a time when the Ramones still wore their love of ‘60s girl groups and doo-wop on their sleeves; a time when punk rock was simple, catchy, and fun. Whereas bands like Joy Division, Bad Brains, or Discharge seemed like a radical break with rock music of the 1960s and 1970s, certain strains of early punk rock were more anachronistic than iconoclastic. This stuff has one foot firmly planted in early rock ‘n’ roll and pre-British invasion popular music. Tweens are making reference to punk rock that references pre-punk styles of pop, creating a double layer of musical nostalgia that is sometimes disorienting.
While Tweens are certainly nodding to groups like the Shirelles, the Crystals, and the Shangri-Las, they are really nodding to punk and alternative rock bands of ‘90s who are nodding to the girl groups of the early 1960s. The two most looming influences that strike my ears when I listen to Tweens are their fellow Buckeye Staters the Breeders and Guided by Voices. Apparently Tweens have even opened for the Breeders, which makes a great deal of sense. This self-titled record is steeped in the dirty, yet catchy hooks that the Deal sisters have been honing for years.
While Tweens lack the epic, expansive qualities or the psychedelic, yet strangely intimate qualities of the Breeders, we can’t really expect a young band like Tweens to play ball with musicians like the Deal sisters just yet. The murky, euphoric “let’s drink Pabst Blue Ribbon and rattle the walls of your parents’ garage” aspect of Tweens’ sound is clearly influenced by that other titan of Ohio rock, Guided by Voices. Between those two major influences, Tweens’ hearts clearly belong to the ‘90s, and only second-handedly to the ‘60s.
The majority of these tracks are simple, hook-filled, bratty little numbers. There is nothing on here that you would not have seen on 120 Minutes in about 1996. One part minimalist punk, one part girl-group catchiness, one part ‘90s garage rock, and you pretty much have it. Like most other examples of popular music, your appreciation of Tweens will depend on your appreciation of the genres and influences that I have been mentioning. If you are in your thirties and still own a few old VHS tapes featuring Matt Pinfield talking about how rad the new Imperial Teen record is, then Tweens is probably just the thing for you.
Tweens pull off this particular subgenre very well; songs like “Hardcore Boy” and “Be Mean” are particularly enjoyable. Vocalist Bridget Battle’s voice sounds pretty consistently great throughout; the perfect balance between punk brattiness and girl-group melody. There is nothing radical or particularly daring about this stuff. You and I and the guy down the street have all heard this many times before, the question is: do you want to keep hearing it in the future? I answer this question with a relatively ambivalent “sure”, but I’ll bet that other people will answer with a more emphatic “yes”.