Ramshackle and hyperambitious, it stretches on for over seventy minutes that will surely test some listerner's patience.
The mix, while a huge step up from bandleader / songwriter Will Toledo's debut Teens Of Style and his early lo-fi band Bandcamp releases, is at places still ragged and raw.
Nothing the band does musically screams "originality." Everything feels rooted in the influences of obvious punk, indie and classic rock tropes from decades past.
And the album is so heavily front-loaded with its highest energy numbers that the album's second half can only pale by comparison.
But at the end of the day, what is here gels magically, making Teens Of Denial far and away my favorite release of 2016.
No other 2016 indie release rocked harder, no other 2016 album wowed me more lyrically, no other 2016 album made me laugh harder, and talk about an innate ability to slam home a chorus! Most rock artists will go to their whole careers without writing one rousing sing-along crescendo as good as the "It doesn't have to be like this!" refrain that ends Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales. Teens Of Denial serves up another five or six every bit as irrestible.
So yeah, I liked Teens Of Denial.
Loosely organized around, but never restrained by, the struggles of Joe, a depressed, substance abusing, mostly alienated high school teen (and obvious Toledo stand-in), Teens Of Denial follows Joe through all manner of musings, bad trips, rants, beatings, fears of adulting, relationship anxieties, and social ups and downs and downs and downs.
But despite the defeatist nature of it all, the album is so sharp in its sociological observations and so hysterical in its presentation of its whiny "the world is against me " stance (in the bridge from stellar opener Fill In The Blank, Toledo sings "I get signs from the cops saying 'stay the fuck down.' / I get signs from the audience saying ' stay the fuck down' / I get signs from God saying 'stay the fuck down,'" and in another song, he compares his privileged but failed, unguided life to the Costo Concordia, the Spanish luxury liner that sank off the coast of Italy and was abandoned by its captain before evacuations were complete) that it's nearly impossible not to get sucked in to Joe's travails. And though unusual, Toledo's slow drawl of a voice feels like the perfect delivery vehicle for these words. In timbre, he sounds like a sluggish Ray Davies, but the attitude is pure Modern Lovers / Jonathan Richmond.
And then there is the music itself.
It's been a long while since I've heard an artist with such a encyclopedic grasp of all the rock 'n' roll tricks employed by the generation that came before (Elvis Costello comes to mind here), or such a startling command of sudden dynamic shifts (maybe Sleater-Kinney on The Woods and No Cities To Love or Justin Vernon on his Bon Iver debut For Emma, Forever Ago, but that's about it). To jump on Toledo's roller coaster narrative from its blistering three song opening peak of Fill In The Blank, the unbelievably propulsive Vincent, and Destroyed By Hippie Powers through to the more reflective musical valleys that pepper the albums final two thirds is to thrill to one of the best musical rides in modern times, and everytime, just when you think things have finally gotten too loose, too slack, another dynamite passages surges forward with impeccable timing to power you through the album's next few minutes.
But to say any more is to ruin the fun of discovery every rock fan should experience for themselves.
Suffice it to say, this is any easy call for me as my favorite album of 2016, and unless this decade's last three years far out perform it's first seven, I struggle to imagine a scenario where this isn't one of my top ten albums of the decade as well.
Status: Highest Recommend
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Fill In The Blank, Vincent, Destroyed By Hippie Powers, (Joe Gets Kicked Out Of School For Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn't A Problem), Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales, Unforgiving Girl (She's Not An), Connect The Dots (The Sage Of Frank Sinatra)
1. Fill In The Blank - 10
2. Vincent - 10
3. Destroyed By Hippie Powers - 10
4. (Joe Gets Kicked Out Of School For Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn't A Problem) - 9
5. Not Just What I Needed - 8
6. Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales - 10
7. 1937 State Park - 8
8. Unforgiving Girl (She's Not An) - 9
9. Cosmic Hero - 8
10. The Ballad Of Costa Concordia - 8
11. Connect The Dots (The Saga Of Frank Sinatra) - 9
12. Joe Goes To School - 7
Intangibles - Very High
Here are the official videos for Fill In The Blank and Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales, and a KEXP live-in-the studio performance of Vincent.