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The Sneaky Complexities Inside the Teen Men Pop Machine

Teen Men
Teen Men
Bar/None Records

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How many times I gotta say this? One of the premier joys – if not the premier joy – of being in this music scribbler business is being gifted opportunities to encounter works of unforeseen popcraft genius like this. Growing out of a one-off project involving Spinto Band-men Nick Krill and Joe Hobson with longtime pal and noted visual artist Albert Birney that soon lured in further visualist Catharine Maloney, the result, designed as an audio/visual multi-media thingy, is an unqualified success on both fronts, as witness the videos embedded herein and the words of honest persuasion accompanying them. Digitally released by Bar/None in June with the label delivering the vinyl July 14th, Teen Men the band, as well as the album made in their image, is destined to win the hearts and minds of anyone engaged the world over in the modern-day pop wars.


Loaded with twinklingly sly samples and given a sprayed undercoating of shining if inobtrusive electronica, Teen Men teems with its own particular charm and a knowing aggregator’s nous. Whether we’re talking the chippery low-key perk of opener “Hiding Records (So Dangerous)” that laughs its way into its buoyant groove, how “It’s All Rushing Back” answers the question ‘What would Paul Simon have sounded like had he been raised on a diet of Squeeze and the Alpha Band?’, all playful melancholia and easy Vampire Weekend swing, or the the way “René” exhibits a breezy dalliance with mid-period XTC-styled baroque and a touch or two of that original Spinto spirit we love so much, it’s no exaggeration to say that gem after exquisitely-constructed gem comes rolling over you embarrassment-of-riches-like as you listen your way through this record.


“Fall Out A Tree,” with that lonely toy piano plink in the background, the doleful progression of electric piano in front of that and Nick Krill’s plaintive, earnest vocal, sounds the essence of autumn’s fading, bravely holding on warmth and feels the way we feel in those aching moments, brimmingly alive but mortal. “The Sea, The Sea,” steel drum effects, quietly buzzing bass synth and summery guitar chords and all, is the very definition of longing, “Township (Not Sure)” positively glows with a hopeful doubt which makes no sense until you hear it, at which point it makes nothing but sense. The delightfully deliberate “New Kind” bumps a hypnotic pop geometry up against a desert heat haze shimmer that’s almost visible through the headphones, the whole shebang banging into a brassy finale that evokes equal amounts classicism and quirk.


Look, it’s not easy making pop like this, stitched together with such an effortless élan and offhand humanity (it’s worth noting that a touching but never maudlin emotionalism pertains throughout), there’s a sneaky complexity at this record’s heart that rather belies its surface impression of easy panache. Layers swim inside pockets that emerge then disappear with an irrefutable internal logic that makes Teen Men an eminently repeatable listen. This is nowhere truer or more evident than on the album’s capstone finale “Kids Being Kids.”


Buoyed by a soul groove of a bass and exactly the length of your classic radio single – three minutes zero seconds – “Kids Being Kids” simply exudes consummate craft, from the subtle touches of reverb to the touching implications inside the light-hearted/dead serious male/female vox to the snap and glimmery splash of the drum track (to name but a teasing handful of attributes). Like everywhere on Teen Men, the upshot is the kind of modesty of extravagance that triggers a reflexive move toward the repeat button.

Thus does this somewhat ad hoc band’s debut album bolster what’s becoming a banner year for literary, pop-crafty pop. Between this, the SLUG album and Bocce & Bourbon, we’ve got ourselves a full-on trifecta. All we need now is a new Field Music album and we’ll have a what, quadrafecta? I dunno, but hey, keep ’em comin’, folks, just keep ’em comin’.

[and just to prove this record’s mighty consistency, here’s a video treatment of a track I didn’t even get to covering here]