There’s a sweet spot between alt-rock, indie and romantic power pop that not many bands can pull off without seeming saccharine and synthetic; but with a healthy dose of youthful wit and glitter, TeenCanteen seem to have nailed it.
While fellow Glaswegians Honeyblood tap into the hazy noise rock of Sonic Youth and the dark theatricality of PJ Harvey to create their fuzzy, punk-infused sound, TeenCanteen offer a brighter, sweeter yet no less feisty concoction of girl-group pop.
Track by track, what carries the songs is the focused, and at times anthemic, drum beats, coupled with sugary smooth harmonies, addictive hooks and sparkly, uplifting guitar.
It’s possible to pick out a nostalgia for jangle pop in this album: the clean guitar and clear, ice-pure vocals being somewhat reminiscent of The La’s, The Cranberries and The Cardigans.
However, where many of their 90s equivalents dealt in heartbreak with melancholy lyrics and slow-pace, dream pop inspired rhythms, TeenCanteen smash the topic of love and romance with the zeal of a teenage diary, combining dreamy idealism with the kind of empowering lyrical self-awareness that made Courtney Barnett refreshing.
‘Kung Fu Heartbeats’ is a more electronic number, relying on the interplay between lead singer Carla Easton’s glacé vocal delivery, twinkling synths and joyous drumbeats that carry the song’s build-up.
Easton’s Scottish lilt easily slips between sharp, punky articulation and the smooth allure of sustained harmonies and playful melodies, accompanied by shimmering backing vocals from the rest of the band.
‘Honey’ explores the feeling of being stuck in a relationship where there is nothing left to talk about, but “the weather” and the boy in question “always makes me suffer”; the paradox of the song’s energy and melancholy (shifting between sparse, slow sections and the upbeat build around the refrain, “like honey”) is lovingly expressed with surf-pop credentials, aligning the band with the likes of Best Coast and The Wharves.
The sense of romantic frustration which tinges ‘Honey’ is diffused in the next track, ‘How We Met (Cherry Pie)’, which plunges us into the band’s trademark golden harmonies and renders the first thrill of falling for someone: “I fell into your eyes with a shiny black splash / my oh my cherry pie what a big bright splash”.
The song is a pick’n’mix treat of lyrical wordplay: all bright, tinselly rhymes, onomatopoeia, vivid imagery and a chorus that flows like a rolling wave and feels deserved in the way a good pop chorus should, hinging on the end-line, “this is how we met” – the succession of romantic similes suggesting the endless longing for return to the sweetness and magic of that first moment.
Another album highlight, ‘Dancing (Hey You)’, makes use of darker eighties-style Pet Shop Boy synths to accompany its lyrical intensity, boiling down to a visceral, bittersweet image of a tryst: “I want to give you kisses causing ulcers / on every lip that’s bit and you’ve got problems / but I’ve got all the answers to your wishes”.
Across the album, the production is consistently polished and the combination of lush, sanguine lyrics, sweet synths and clean guitars owes as much to the likes of The Lightning Seeds’ Cloudcuckooland – with all its gelatinous power pop and romantic imagination – as it does to the grungier tradition of nineties alt-rock, riff-driven girl bands (Hole and Veruca Salt spring to mind).
Nonetheless, TeenCanteen’s spirited synthesis of electronica, indie and glossy pop melodies remains decidedly fresh, a unique brand of fluorescent confectionary that is both a surprisingly solid debut and also a Vitamin C shot of musical sunshine to get us through the misery of winter.
Words: Maria Sledmere