TEEN Love Yes

[Carpark; 2016]

Styles: post-R&B, pre-pop, “dance yrself clean”
Others: Janelle Monáe, Savages, Jessie Ware

“Welcome to the Space Jam/ here’s your chance, do your dance at the Space Jam.”

Space is big big big, spinning forever away from our brains and their ability to comprehend it. It is cosmic, far out, a final frontier. Space comes after outer; space prefixes flight, travel, time, age. And space is atomic, the most exquisite portion of our humanity. It’s my spot on the board, the bar between letters and the place between words. I can space out, this is my personal space.

“We as a band value the space and moments of quiet within songs just as much as the loud explosive parts,” said Lizzie Lieberson, keyboards, vocals, one of the three Lieberson sisters in TEEN, in conversation with Rookie. And the bulk of that interview details the band’s maneuvering in space. NYC was too noisy, a winter retreat upstate was cold and cramped (“phantom pressure”), a break in Kentucky was good, and Nova Scotia was just right, an “inspired spring and summer.”

It’s how it works, maybe. You go to the space to find the sound. But can you reverse it? Can you go to a sound to find a space?

Love Yes flings the sound skyward and waits to hear what bounces back. The pop haze of In Limbo, the bounce and blip of The Way and Color are rebroadcast as a symphony for synths and hi-hat. “Tokyo” is the alien liaison, the pop sentience crooning “move like this.” Love Yes sounds like dance music, a dialect that’s half-familiarity (songs at the eighth-grade canteen, radio stuff from your Honda’s speakers, mom’s disco singles in the basement) and half-instinctual, buried in the beat, in the pocket. Your head bopping is because of the sounds. The space between them is the hitch making you squint.

The space is not at rest.

Because while you were “dreaming, dreaming,” the chorus of “Tokyo” impacted like an asteroid: “Fooling the Madonna, chasing after youthful skin/ Watching your own age drip, softening your trying skin.” Teeny Lieberson is calling out the senseless misogyny of aging relationships and Lizzie’s keyboards are sputtering, collapsing into full-on freakout. Then the song levels. The dance resumes. But the planetary bodies have weight.

The drumstick-kissed cymbal of “All About Us” tramples on unspoken sexism, the casual bullshit of “I was only joking” and “Another Man’s Woman” mandates a woman’s place on the floor. TEEN’s commitment to a sound yields their thesis: feminism is essential to dance music; dance music is essential to feminism. The sun at the center is “Animal,” where the same sounds that invited the body into motion now show up ugly. A ride cymbal clangs, a synth is all chainsaws dangling. “What does that mean anyway?” all four women sing. And the song buzzes down, until it’s just Teeny cooing. And then the voice stops. The space is not safe.

Love Yes is a pop record about women in crisis of all kinds. Parents die, pop records are hard to write, relationships between people change and turn toxic. There is a deep-seated power imbalance between sexes, races, classes. This is a shit place to be in. The poetry of Love Yes is to stare down the unsafe spaces and dance all over them. Because bodies make sounds and the voice gets heard. Love Yes is the sound of a band moving in cohesive choreography. And that new motion takes place in an exploded space sounded by four female voices.

“Here’s your chance,” they say.” Do your dance.”

Links: TEEN - Carpark

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