On the evidence of Love Yes, TEEN’s third album in four years, the Brooklyn quartet remain an intriguing proposition. Yet the genesis of this album was far from easy.
They began by decamping to Woodstock in the middle of winter, but found inspiration was not forthcoming. Subsequently lead singer Kristina ‘Teeny’ Lieberson took herself away to a Kentucky cabin for three weeks. Eventually the songs followed, and having realised the benefits of isolation the band regrouped, the three Lieberson sisters and bassist Boshra AlSaadi heading to Nova Scotia to finish the album.
To their credit, the music does not sound forced. The results are striking, Love Yes becoming an album that can be enjoyed on two levels. On one hand these are well written pop songs with a penchant for off-piste harmonies, catchy hooks that shouldn’t quite work but do, and equally memorable vocal couplets that complement a breezy set of 1980s-influenced electronic pop.
Delve a little deeper, though, and there is a serious message to be heard. While on the opening tracks TEEN appear to be dissecting relationships that are very close to home, they are at the same time focusing on sexuality and spirituality from a woman’s perspective. They do this with a deceptively deadpan delivery, but the addition of sumptuous harmonies and big production lends weight to their arguments.
There is deep seated emotion in the floating harmonies and big drums of Another Man’s Woman, a study of conflicting desire that flies in the face of temptation. The magnificent single All About Us might be a breezy affair but it simultaneously flicks a couple of fingers up at the back of a departing other half, with a central vocal to die for. Love Yes is also an affirmative song, bolstered by big vocals and consonant harmonies.
For this record a few 1980s female music icons make their presence felt. Early Madonna is the clearest influence, lyrically and musically, and there are occasional breathy references to Cocteau Twins and, when attitude strikes, a frisson of Siouxsie Sioux. The recording locations play their part in the use of brief, spacious interludes for solo saxophone and trumpet, as well as the music in songs like Gone For Good, where expansive pad sounds create a backdrop of which William Orbit would be proud.
Big textures also support Please, a dark and vulnerable slow number from keyboard player Lizzie Lieberson that contrasts with the rest of the album. “What kind of woman did you think that I could be?” it asks, before reassurance comes from the backing – “don’t you forget that you’re good and you’re worth it”.
The closing Push is also a slower number, but is too drenched in reverb to make itself clear enough. This is a recurring problem, and songs like Free Time have too much going on, the web of vocal lines and complicated guitar swells overwhelming the catchy punchline. The faster numbers occasionally suffer in this way, twisting and turning between ideas that mean their message does not always get through.
Thankfully this does not derail the overall impact of the album, and the band are at their best on songs like Superhuman, where a lithe bass line supports a lovely, breathy chorus in a great illustration of how less is more.
Empowerment, then, is largely achieved through a striking set of songs that work both as easy pop listening and as meaningful content. Love Yes is a memorable listen, if just a bit too busy at times.