Sunday 26 March 2017

Top 102 Albums, No Minus 17 - Teens of Denial

Top 102 Albums, No. Minus 17
Teens of Denial - Car Seat Headrest

"I am freaking out in my mind / In a house that isn't mine
My end goal isn't clear / Should not have had that last beer"

Sometimes age feels like a fog. Everything becomes less distinct, and those things that are distinctive are often only so because they are aided and abetted by memory / nostalgia for eyes that were less cynical and more full of the pulsing expectations of youth.
Reeling through the posts that make up these now 120 albums it is clear that very little post 1990 has dug deep into my heart, let alone from the 21st century. But here to redress the balance comes a record from last year that feels a bit like like The Modern Lovers refracted through The Pixies and Pavement, a record which has edged further and further into my heart after I listened to one song shared on Facebook and ordered the album the same day.

It's a record full of genuine hooks, pop music for the disaffected without the grief removed, or the joy.   The guitars at time squeal atonally at others they chime and drive with the abandon of chart toppers from an alternate world.

I'm looking forward to seeing the band live on Monday in Dublin. Here's some wandering ruminations on / quotes from / tangents to / the songs.

Fill In The Blank
"You have no right to be depressed / You haven’t tried hard enough to like it
Haven’t seen enough of this world yet / But it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts
Well stop your whining, try again / No one wants to cause you pain
They’re just trying to let some air in / But you hold your breath, you hold your breath, you hold it
Hold my breath, I hold my breath, I hold it"

"For the past year I’ve been living in a town / That gets a lot of tourists in the summer months
They come and they stay for a couple days / But hey, I’m living here every day"
I grew up in a seaside town. The town often felt that it was being dismantled by the tourists, like your identity as a permanent resident was becoming somehow dragged into liminal fields. Fractured lines somehow coalesce and at times reach sublimity.

Destroyed By Hippie Powers
It's hard to go wrong when you've got such a great song title but it's still hard to get it this right. Opening bars are Pixied to the max and the repeated chorus line "Tell my mother I'm going home, I have been destroyed by hippie powers / Tell my mother I'm going home, I have been destroyed by hippie powers" is delivered with just the right mix of humour and heartbreak.
Here Christopher Lloyd and Tom Hanks improvise a scene based on the song:

(Joe Gets Kicked Out Of School For Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn't A Problem)
This tale of drugs misadventures, guilt and visions of talking Jesus reminds me of the overwrought world of Gordon Gano of The Violent Femmes - humour and celebration always walking side by side with the self-excoriation.
And then there's the echoes of Mr Richman on "Now everybody, everybody, everybody’s going along with the modern style" and after listening to the voice of Jesus and his father condemning him the song exits on variations of "Drugs are better, drugs are better with / Friends are better, friends are better with / Drugs..."

Not What I Needed
This is a deconstructed howl against the failure of meaning when there is just too many answers patting you on the head and telling you what you want to hear. It even ends with distorted answers from an interview about the album, which, apparently was
"You know, with Teens of Denial it was sort of contemporaneous when I was writing it. You know, and what I was experiencing at the time. And, uh, I guess I was just out of my teenage years when I was writing things for Teens of Denial. (...?) really feel like anything had changed. So, um, yeah I guess (...?) two of those items together (...?) what I'm doing in the present tense"

Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales
"We are not a proud race / It's not a race at all
We're just trying / I'm only trying to get home"
I can feel the teenage me singing this when walking home from a party with friends. Its a sprawling wondrous thing that should be number one. Once again the earnest plea at it's heart reminds me of The Modern Lovers in their pomp. making the best rock'n'roll public service announcement since Joe Strummer told you to Know Your Rights.
"Please listen to him / It's not too late
Turn off the engine / Get out of the car
And start to walk"

1937 State Park
The skeleton of Adam Ant's Prince Charming stalks through 1937 State Park. God this takes me back without being a memory, reminding me with tidal power of the explosive, fragile egotism of youth.
"I didn’t want you to hear / That shake in my voice / My pain is my own"

Unforgiving Girl (She's Not An)
Close to throwaway but not close enough to be disposable.

Cosmic Hero
"If you really wanna make it last / You could commit yourself completely
You could lie down in the river at last / And let the dread complete you
And if you really don't want the pain / You can disengage completely
Because it wasn't healthy anyways / And you've got a job and a family"
In which the battle between good and evil is sorted out by the hurling of some playground taunts: "I will go to heaven / You won’t go to heaven" Superheroes should always be this petty (not Tom Petty).

The Ballad Of The Costa Concordia
"How was I supposed to know? / And God won’t forgive me
And you won’t forgive me / Not unless I open up my heart
And how am I supposed to do that"
In which a  list of mundane quotidian reasons for teen angst grow into a litany of shame which climaxes with a comparison to the captain of the infamous shipwrecked ferry Costa Concordia.
Eleven minutes long and not without the moments such length incurs this still showcases the risk taking at work across all the album and it hits many highs.

Connect The Dots (The Saga Of Frank Sinatra)
The dots add up to the journey from boy to man, with the desire to hit people's hearts replacing the desire to establish one's manhood by the fist. Something of the stale smell of male frustration stings through the welter of punk riffrains.

Joe Goes To School
Just over a minute of melancholic abstract cycling, with horse.

Some stuff I've been reading while listening:
http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/features/7595913/car-seat-headrest-will-toledo-interview-kanye-west : "The whole album is an example of improperly internalized religious thought. I think it’s important to note that the ideas expressed on the album represent a thought process. There are impulsive moments of judgment that aren’t necessarily the conclusions that I would want to draw"

The gig was great - here's a taster - the final track: Destroyed by Hippie Powers.

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