There is a certain expectation of aesthetics that comes with the story of a musician who wanders off into the woods, spending weeks holed up in a cabin clearing their head of all the songs that couldn’t push their way out when blocked in by society’s noise. It doesn’t have to be beard rock necessarily, but it’s probably not going to be so upbeat.
Think of Justin Vernon traipsing off to northernmost Wisconsin to bring forth Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago. Or, more recently, Nils Edenloff of the Rural Alberta Advantage went to a cottage on the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario to write much of Mended with Gold. Kristina “Teeny” Lieberson of Brooklyn’s TEEN became a member of the Cabin Club last year, but the resulting songs that would come to form Love Yes are, well, more danceable.
Differences aside, Love Yes is no less a product of soul searching than those other works of earnest isolation. In the three weeks that Lieberson spent soaking in the Appalachia of Morehead, Kentucky, she struck personal gold. Not only did she find TEEN’s strongest melodies to date, but also the words to finely illustrate matters of relationships, sensuality, feminism, sexism, and other issues that must have seemed so far away at that time. After Lieberson returned home to her sister bandmates Lizzie (keyboards) and Katherine (drums) and bassists Boshra Al-Saadi, the four decided they had a hot hand with the ‘getting out of town’ thing. They traveled to the sisters’ native Nova Scotia to capture Love Yes at the Old Confidence Lodge studio in Riverport, which has a list of previous clients that includes Chad VanGaalen, Timber Timbre, and many others.
The Way and Color, TEEN’s well-crafted previous album, was restless, progressive, and informed by R&B. On the surface, Love Yes could be similarly described, but those hard-to-quantify differences that make one song stick with you more than another have all landed in the band’s favor. The album is a significant step forward for TEEN; a dozen bright burning arguments that you can have your cake and eat it too with articulate, deeply felt but undeniably fun pop music. It isn’t miles away from the reverbed, repeating harmonies of full-line-up debut In Limbo, but it is clear now, if it wasn’t before, that they are not the kind to linger long in any one mode.
That goes double for the perspective that Lieberson takes in her lyrics. She is just as likely to narrate in the third person as she is to tell her side of a personal story. It is not always clear when she’s assuming the role of one or another, either. As she explained last month, first single “Tokyo” is about an aging man’s lack of interest in his wife, and his “chasing after youthful skin”, and the kinds of deeper psychological issues that lay behind such actions. “Gone For Good” marries Mute’s early years with ‘90s girl group harmonies as its heroine promises that “I will burn the house down in jealousy / Yeah, how it kills me.”
“All About Us” sorts through a personal collision with someone who presents a different face than their own: “You, so troubled so shy / You couldn’t be that kind of guy.” When the chorus declares that “It wasn’t all about us / It was only about you and me this one time”, Lieberson might be laying that line on that kind of guy, or she might be repeating it back to him. On “Another Man’s Woman”, she takes a simple image and unpacks its symbolism through pointed recitation. “You’re another man’s woman” reaches beyond a particular scenario to touch on the messy business of emotional possession as the song builds to a show-stopping power ballad finish, soaring guitar solo and all.
Many of Love Yes’ sonic touchstones hail from an undefined era loosely framed by Donna Summer and the soundtrack to The Last Dragon, with a healthy amount of Kate Bush in the middle. The album’s many retro tics—the synth arpeggio in “Example”, the strutting “Billie Jean” bass line of “Superhuman”—don’t undermine it with a grab for the evergreen appeal of the ‘80s. Cyborg whistles and un-ironic funk are verbs in TEEN’s radiant dictionary. They are also the shinier edges that stand out first. By nature of its density, Love Yes takes time to reveal all of its facets.
“Please”, one side of a wished-for conversation with a father who has passed away, is a stark and spacey downshift. Played live it makes even more apparent a psych-ish side that the band should retain. The heavy breathing “Animal”, too, stands aside the pack with its airy vocals and low pounding percussion. Tying it all together are the arresting three-part harmonies that have been TEEN’s not-so-secret weapon since they began; so naturally intertwined do their voices become it would be fair to suggest the Lieberson sisters can read one another’s minds.