MTV.com began with the profound headline: "There's A Band Called Teen Mom, And They're Awesome." And, aside from a certain amount of hyperbole and understatement rolled into one, they're essentially right. It would be nice to elaborate though wouldn't it?
They're from Washington, DC, and as MTV.com also alluded to, "They are not a band of underage mothers." (Just in case you were wondering about that). They touch upon post-rock, shoegaze, garage-rock and also subversive misery – a genre for them and Morrissey alone. Their sound is essentially a very simple one of bass, drums, guitar and a few basic effects. What sets them apart on this, their debut EP, is the distinctive vocal tone against dynamic, and often opposing, guitar sounds along with their imaginative manipulation of arrangement.
Beneath any emotional content is usually a subversive suggestion. Any concept of happiness can't be relied upon, and conversely, misery often tends to mean something quite different. Mean Tom does have the feel of a college record exploring various laments but manages to rise above these limitations. Despite the garage-rock demeanour of, 'I Wanna Go Out', it never relies upon a lo-fi set-up; merely using it as a tool to accentuate the soaring hook of the chorus. Likewise with the use of melody, these are not linear half-drunk ramblings screamed at house parties - they're delicate, demure and poignant.
Kelly's vocal has the breathy quality of uncool chic, and the anti-hero. The complex chorus melody on 'You And Me' displays that Chris Kelly not only has creative ambition, but vocal ability beyond your average college slacker – and most of his peers for that matter. Often the music explodes and distorts but his voice remains a gratifying beacon within the haze. His lyrics tend to deprecate his situation but with a determined spirit that's never helpless - just maybe hopeless. For example on, 'Gehry', "I'm sad 'cause I really like sadness," expresses a counter intuitive notion whilst subverting a poetic tendency to revel in misery, but all isn't what it may seem.
Above all, and as prominent as any aspect, is the bristling post-rock ambiguity of over-driven guitar. Choruses are swamped with distortion and the vocal is shrouded, displaying elements of shoegaze in their sound. These passages tend to be brief and offer direct opposition to indie-disco grooves and pleasant flecks of lead arpeggio hooks. Ultimately, this juxtaposition adds depth by layering another sound within their repertoire and it must be said that they never overuse it. Whether overshadowing vocal passages or providing a background for cutting explosions of light, the undertones are often subtle but essential.
Where Teen Mom show greatest ambition is in their arrangements, never being satisfied to deliver the typical they're purposeful in their exploration of impulse. If you consider, 'Say My Name', there are distinct phrases of music but all are hashed together with an ambiguous connection. It isn't radical to the point of unrecognisable, just invigorating. With regular changes of pace; sounds that are prone to expansion; and, more generally, songs which grow and disintegrate in equal measure. This unpredictability adds to the dreamy concept of the music. It's difficult to predict and difficult to focus into a single and concise monologue. But for an EP of twenty minutes and six tracks it's complexity is remarkably rewarding.
Awesome is nowadays often a byword for anything slightly better than 'alright'. That would do a great disservice to a creation of beauty and profound resonance. This record is prolific and indeed awesome, just not in the MTV sense that most things are.