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From the dreamy drones of 2012's In Limbo to the space prog R&B of 2014's The Way and Color, TEEN has established themselves as a group unwilling to stay still. Based in Brooklyn and fronted by singer and multi-instrumentalist Teeny Lieberson--who is joined by her two sisters, drummer Katherine and keyboardist Lizzie, as well as bassist Boshra Al-Saadi--TEEN is a band that, like all great artists, is always eager to push the realm of what is considered conventional, while still maintaining an effortless appeal that will help them gain mainstream traction. They were once compared to what it would be like if Zappa fronted a dream-pop band, a description that is hard to find fault in. But after good, but not great outings on their previous two records, the group arrived at point where their sizable tool belt had to produce something representative of their large capabilities. So, with Love Yes, TEEN's third LP, listeners are treated to the culmination of this foursome synthesizing all their talents, influences, and experiments into one exceptional stargazing record.
Odd time signatures and curious tempo shifts can oftentimes turn people away, and can be hard to implement effectively, particularly on a pop record. Yet, from the outset of Love Yes, TEEN makes it clear that conventional wisdom about how to craft a pop song will not be factoring into their formula. The record's first track and lead single, 'Tokyo,' is performed in a 6/8 sort of waltz, replete with towering vocals, lurching synths and a grooving bass line that ultimately takes the track toward an early contender for catchiest chorus of 2016. And while 'Tokyo' certainly does want to make the listener move, the track's brilliance comes from an understanding that dance music can have a brain. Like Neon Indian's VEGA Intl. Night School last year, Love Yes is a record aware of the larger societal implications of going out and dancing and, as such, when a song like 'Tokyo' touches upon the lustful desires of men who only desire women with a youthful, virginal purity to them, it packs a powerful punch.
Around the release of their previous LP, TEEN admitted to being influenced by the likes of Erykah Badu and D'Angelo, and the influences certainly continue to show. The spacey, funky R&B of tracks like 'Another Man's Woman' and 'Superhuman' dive into the darker side of human sexuality, choosing to explore rather than submit as some of the more sensual songs of the '70s once encouraged.
Moments like these, as well as the bubbling Bananarama-tinged 'Free Time,' allow TEEN to maintain fluidity between their influences and their aspirations. Love Yes is a distinctively modern record, packed to the brim with ideas and sounds. Some of the music is inspired by earlier trailblazers, but the Liebersons and Al-Saadi always make it their own, just as their lyrics are uniquely their own and allow them to critique their influences just as much as they pull from them.
TEEN has been a solid band for several years, but Love Yes has almost certainly elevated them to being a great one. With their vintage-meets-future sound and intoxicating rhythms, don't be surprised if this group begins to pop up more and more as 2016 moves forward. But here's hoping that as their visibility grows people keep their ears open because Love Yes is not just valuable as a dance floor soundtrack. It is an exceptional commentary on the way women are treated in music and in society at large, and people would be foolish to not dive in and learn something.
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