Be they Gallagher, Davies, Jonas or Fogarty, bands of brothers punch each other. They are grudge-carriers, saboteurs and tour-truncating well-poisoners; spotlight thieves and royalty hogs; smiling backstabbers, cuckolds and deathbed no-shows. “And there’s also a negative side.”
Bands of sisters are more like private little nations: insular cultures with invented languages and obscure coats of arms. Getting to know a group like the Roches or the Tom Tom Club (a husband/wife project and a sisters’ band) can feel like eavesdropping through a bedroom door. It’s that cloistered, Lord of the Flies, world-inventing quality that makes the Shaggs – by far – the most interesting band ever.
Meet TEEN, a three-sister, Brooklyn-based project featuring the songs and the singing of Teeny Lieberson, former keyboardist and vocalist with Luke Temple’s beloved indie-pop band Here We Go Magic. Let me get this out of the way, so that the fine people in TEEN become inured to it sooner rather than later: Hey, TEEN is like the New York version of HAIM! As TEEN’s star ascends, the comparison to the popular Californian sisters will be inevitable and dogged – not just because TEEN and HAIM are both CAPS LOCK bands composed of three sisters, but also because both belong broadly to the art/dance/electro moment in the indie-pop world.
There the similarities end abruptly. Where HAIM revels in disposable pop (owing as much to Denise “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” Williams as to Madonna and Stevie Nicks), TEEN is all about the art, teasing us with pop – dangling and yanking it – and being deceptive, if not downright fraudulent and dangerous, on the subject of dancing as well. TEEN’s sparse electro grooves, analog sonics, lush vocal beds and predilection for slow jams reference the modern R & B genre; but the odd phrase lengths, herky-jerk feels and the expressionistic grafting of dissimilar segments into single songs make for difficult dancing at best.
The Way and the Color,TEEN’s second full-length on Carpark Records, arrives in the familiar envelope of dance-pop, but the letter itself is all modern hybrid electro art song with lyrics that are as inviting and as elusive as the grooves themselves. TEEN is a natural and worthy kin of popular boroughmates like Annie Clark and Dirty Projectors’ Dave Longstreth when he is in his minimalist R & B mode – all descendents, of course, of Prince and what he had to say about dance music in the ’80s. TEEN does not aspire to the harmonic sophistication of St. Vincent or Dirty Projectors, but is every bit as savvy a conjurer of postmodern groove music with one foot in the clubs and one in the Sister schools.
The Way and the Color’s opening track, “Rose4U,” may look like Prince on paper, but it grooves like a digitalized abstraction of “Tomorrow Never Knows.” At precisely 2:16 it also introduces TEEN’s taste for sudden, psychedelic interruptions and redirections – a strategy repeated often enough on the album’s first few tracks that it keeps the listener nervous in anticipation of the next radical disjunction, a little wary to commit to the groove in the moment, lest the next moment turn you into a dancing fool.
What is finally so winning about TEEN is not necessarily its of-the-moment currency, its stylistic playfulness or even the band’s and producer/co-writer Daniel Schlett’s highly imaginative arranging and sound-wrangling, but Teeny’s slightly raspy singing itself, and her writing. Her lyrics toy with a kind of academic Minimalism while maintaining a powerful human and humane connection. Through all her carefully cultivated ambiguities and repetitions, it is never that hard to know what Teeny is on about: doubt, pressure, questions of modern identity and its precarious balances. At her best as a lyricist (in, for example, “Sticky Situation,” a song about pregnancy), Lieberson finds a thoroughly modern and stylish way of articulating personal and cultural turbulence simultaneously.
TEEN with Chris Maxwell & Adrien Reju, Saturday, June 28, 8 p.m., $15, Colony Café, 22 Rock City Road, Woodstock; www.colonycafewoodstock.com.