I’ve been in a unique position to watch Teenage Evil grow from a spiteful seed into a splendorous, long-limbed plant. The rough mixes of about five or six songs arrived at my doorstep last year, and I played the shit out of those damn things. I even had a few ideas I wanted to share with head cog Jonathan Byerley (“Listen man, the chorus of ‘Hey Hey That’s Devotion’ is too good to wait for; you need to start the song with that shit yo!”), not to mention the fact that I sort of liked the way the rough mixes sounded (then again, I’ve almost always preferred ghetto, demo-stage mixes to polishes ones).
My point is, this review has been fluttering around in the back of my noggin’ for so long I’ve been struggling to figure out what the hell I’m going to do with it. So I’ll go ahead and lay it on the clothesline for you: It’s a good record. I fucking love Plates Of Cake’s approach to the indie-rock tradition. They play it straight, relatively speaking, but while they do it, they slant to the side just enough to cause roller-coaster queasiness in the uninitiated. Their guitars ring, jingle, jangle, and tingle via simple riffs, the drummer has never met a fill he likes, and the group choruses are tamped way down. Their knack for being slightly off serves them well on their sophomore full-length, as prime cuts like the aforementioned “Hey Hey That’s Devotion” (replete with a “D’yer Mak’er” chorus), a Clash-ism that spells out interesting possibilities for PoC’s future; “Transit Trials,” a sickeningly cold-catchy single I also wrote up for Cerberus awhile back; and “A Capital is Born” represent the epitome of solid rock writing, planning, and execution.
There also is a dark side I can’t ignore. The reasonably apt Soft Boys cover knocks Teenage Evil off its runaway trajectory SMACK-dab at the end of Side A, and it takes a few flip-side tunes to recover. I don’t like to speculate too much on motivations artists have for what they do and why they do it, but I will offer this: covers don’t make sense if the creative juices are truly flowing, and it frankly distracts me every single time I spin the LP. A couple cuts on Side B also betray a hint of staleness that there wasn’t even a whiff of on Plates Of Cake’s debut album. (Thank god “As If the Choice Were Mine” is there to mop up.)
I don’t find these small flaws to be distracting enough to detract from the whole, particularly because the lyrics, once again, resist any hipster trap you can set by dint of their plain-spoken, witness-to-a-bus-crash frankness (sample: “It’s better to be lonely than cruel;” teenage evil, indeed). Teenage Evil carries the same traits some of us fell in love with the first time around, but adds a few stunning, sweeping gestures you’ll find it impossible not to respond to. While Jonathan Byerly also released a solo album in 2012, I hope he continues to cultivate the signature sound he’s nailed as the frontman of Plates Of Cake.