Los Angeles-based rock group Teenage Wrist are only on their second album, but they are already on their second lead vocalist. The history of rock bands switching lead vocalists is a landscape of landmines. There are success stories here and there, but often it’s a place of cringy versions. No one likes to talk about Black Sabbath’s Dio years, yet Black Flag arguably did some of the best work with their fourth lead vocalist. So, there is a possibility there. Teenage Wrist took an even bolder turn than just switching vocalists, though. With their new album Earth Is a Black Hole, Teenage Wrist swapped rock subgenres as well.
The group’s debut album, Chrome Neon Jesus, would fit neatly in a box with Title Fight’s Hyperview and Balance and Composure’s Light We Made, both rock albums that found a love of shoegaze and leaned into it. Although, Chrome Neon Jesus allows itself to get much louder and grittier than the aforementioned albums. Just the title track alone pummels hard enough to send some to the door and others to the pit. Most songs like “Swallow” and “Daylight” paid service to the shoegaze gods, mainly through the heavy chorus-effect on the guitar and the breathy vocals. Other songs, like “Kibo” especially, put so much weight on the whammy bar it might make Kevin Shields smirk, at least.
Earth Is a Black Hole finds Teenage Wrist mining a whole new type of rock: modern alternative. “Squeeze (Intro)” comes into view with the same quiet-to-loud effect of “Cherub Rock” and then moves towards a watery lead reminiscent of half the guitar work on Nevermind. This radio-friendly-unit-shifter approach continues for most of the album. The track “Wear U Down”, with its Weezer-esque rhythm guitar and bombastic lyrics, could be placed in a playlist with Modern Alternative radio stars Highly Suspect and Badflower. Absolutely no one would lift their head in notice. “Stella” is a heavily produced slow track, reminiscent of the ought’s most labored over pop-punk ballads, including long-held notes of lyrics like “If this is everything, hold on to me.”
The shoegaze influences haven’t left entirely, though. “Silverspoon” keeps that floating in space guitar tone and the breathy vocals. “Yellowbelly”, arguably the best track on the record, takes some of that guitar tone and layers it on top of jangle to a wonderful effect. The critical difference between tracks like “Silverspoon” and “Yellowbelly” and prior work from Teenage Wrist is how the chorus operates. On Chrome Neon Jesus, the chorus was more likely to blend into the rest of the song, a vital component of the shoegaze style. On Earth Is a Black Hole, though, Teenage Wrist craft big, memorable choruses, with “Yellowbelly”, even allowing itself to evolve into full-on groups whoo’s to a glorious effect.
With the leaving of their lead singer, most three-piece groups would call it then and there. Teenage Wrist did not. It might be quite a different band, but they’re not less successful in what they are doing. They’re just doing something a little bit different this time around. Some fans may head for the door. Others still might run for the pit.