Maybe there’s something in the water in Philadelphia. Where other cites put fluoride in their pipes, does Philly have some magic powder they add to nurture incredibly off-kilter, ramshackle, amazing pop music? Clap Your Hands Say Yeah might be the most notable example, but Dr. Dog have been plugging away at this for years, and now their label mates the Teeth have officially arrived at the party. You’re My Lover Now combines the vocal theatrics of CYHSY with the Beatleseque qualities of Dr Dog, but what really sets them apart is their chameleon-like ability to take elements from so many beloved indie bands and make that new mixed-up sound completely their own. At times, the Teeth sound like the Decemberists without the finishing school, Belle and Sebastian minus the Scottish Catholic-school-kid reserve, and Modest Mouse sans crippling existential angst. If the best parts of your record collection somehow got mashed up together by Morrissey, John Lennon, and Joe Strummer, You’re My Lover Now would be the end result.
The album opens with “Molly Make Him Pay”, a modern day cautionary tale with honky tonk piano and pounding drums. The Teeth’s press kit warns us that “lyrically, every character and every idea [in the album] is grotesque”. Molly sets the mood well: a loser of a girl who pines over a boy who “ain’t worth the broken bones beneath her skirt”. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this album’s themes “grotesque” (Molly is no more monstrous than any other forlorn hipster looking for love), but every song seems dedicated to the kids who self-medicate with Parliaments and irony. They might be desperate, but they need music to dance to, and “Shoulderblade” is three minutes of glorious pop-punk excess. Towards the end of the song, the insistent, choppy guitars take a backseat and let Jonas Osterle’s wonderfully spastic drumming shine. His cymbal crashes echo twin brothers Peter and Aaron Modavis’s vocals, whipping the song into a cacophonous rock-out frenzy. Just when it looks like things are getting out of control and could end sloppily, the band wisely cuts out with a yelled, “And that’s the end!”.
Part of what’s great about this album is that aspect of controlled chaos. The songs constantly seem to be on the verge of breaking up and falling apart, but then some new chord is struck or some new verse started and it’s obvious that the band was only playing with us—that, despite their histrionics and sloppy clapping, they are professionals and would never disappoint their audience with a half-assed performance.
Though the Teeth excel at the dance party ditties, they’ve got a sensitive side, too. Even if their characters are needy and lost, they’re rarely treated derisively, and there is always a last humanizing line to redeem their poor choices and questionable hookups. The unnamed protagonist of “It’s Over, It’s Over” might manipulate her life, drinking and eating and fucking according to plan, but the thing she misses most is being six years old and feeling her mother’s touch. The tinkling keyboards that chime in as we hear that last revelation are a nice touch, resolving this quiet vignette and lending the character a final touch of dignity. “The Coolest Kid in School” sounds like a lost Ringo track off of Rubber Soul, if only Rubber Soul had been made two years ago in Seth Cohen’s bedroom in the O.C. It’s also here where the Belle and Sebastian reference comes in, as the lyrics read as if they were lifted verbatim from The Boy With the Arab Strap.
The album’s title track is another winner; the lyrics “I don’t care about anything / Cause you’re my lover now” are sung over a nervous guitar line, tinging the careless romanticism of the words with menace and anxiety. It’s a tension felt up to the last lines of the album, sung in a deceptively sweet voice and backed by innocent “oohs” and “aahs”: “And was it the hand / She brushed across your thigh / That made you realize / You’d be alone until the day you die”. It all might be true, but as long as this album is around, being alone won’t be as tough as it once was.
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// Notes from the Road
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