[22 April 2014]
Indie rock’s appropriation of mainstream pop sensibilities is a trend that continues to produce exciting results. The xx covering Aaliyah’s “Hot Like Fire”, “Wrenning Day” by Ava Luna, and the arty twists St. Vincent has applied to pop tropes on her new self-titled release have all led us on exciting divergences from the untheatrical indie template. TEEN are one of the latest acts to follow this example. Their second release, The Way and Color, is indebted to the ‘90’s R ‘n’ B the band’s three sisters – Teeny, Katherine, and Lizzie Lieberson – and new bassist Boshra Alsaadi grew up with. It’s a welcome and daring departure from their Spacemen 3-laced debut, 2012’s In Limbo, even though it doesn’t always hit its marks.
The Way and Color begins with one of the album’s weakest tracks, the Princely-in-title-but-not-in-sound “Rose 4 U”. As promising as Teeny’s vocals sometimes are, her voice sounds too thin for this material, which demands rich deliveries. She begins to find her footing on the album’s first single, “Not for Long”. The R ‘n’ B vibes are front and center here, with the mellow chorus giving off the same warmth as an evening of girl talk with your wisest friends. It’s a vibe that is similar to TLC at their peak, albeit a TLC who see nothing wrong with tacking a proggy outro unto the end of a fairly straightforward pop song.
“Tied Up Tied Down” carries over the imprint Sonic Boom – the co-founding member of Spacemen 3 who produced TEEN’s debut – left on the band, with bass and synth lines edging closer to the outer limits than the material realm. Teeny’s melody line on the chorus wrestles the song closer to Earth, and the next track, the smooth “Sticky”, keeps The Way and Color firmly planted there. The sound collage “Voices” gets TEEN’s weirder urges out just in time for the album’s highlight, “More Than I Ask For”. This ballad is the finest example of TEEN’s desire to make a psych-tinged, lo-fi version of a D’Angelo record. The lilting yearn of the chorus, heard so often in bleeding heart pop songs, is countered by a strange vocal affect on the verses that stretch out the last word in each line delivered, as if Teeny’s vocal chords were made of psychedelic taffy.
“Toi Toi Toi” returns to a more conventional vocal styling, that of the singsong schoolyard taunt, with no new direction to spin it in. The album ends on a much higher note than it begins, with “Reconsider”, all but spartan until its galloping outro, and “All the Same”, which features one of Teeny’s stronger vocal takes. Although its experimentation makes The Way and Color a fairly strong release, some of TEEN’s ventures actually hinder the songs. The brass and woodwind coda of “Breathe Low and Deep”, for example, is approximately 50 seconds too long. The Way and Color may not be the final destination for this breed of indie, but it does serve as a striking signpost along the way.