by Editorial Staff
When we interviewed PRO TEENS last March they warned of a forthcoming LP full of “flailing arms” and “shitty noises." While neither of those phrases aptly describe the Phoenix-based group's debut effort, they certainly hint at the energy contained in the eleven tracks that make up PRO TEENS' eponymous full length. Recorded, mastered, and mixed by Eamon Ford, with music by Andy Elliot Phipps, Michael Coto, and Isaac Parker, PRO TEENS is as deeply personal as it is "flailing." Rather than review the release in its entirety, we asked a few of our staff writers to cover their favorite tracks.
"Control" by Graham Johnson
"Control" isn't the most traditional way to start an album, especially a debut. It plods rather than opening with a bang, relies on vocal affect as much or more than it does melodic hook. Like past PRO TEENS tracks, it creates much of its texture through web-like lead guitars which straddle wide intervals and string together high and low pitches via quasi-arpeggios, each part working on disparate strands to create the track's substantial sonic mesh. This separateness and space sets up the track's chorus as the true delivering moment of the song, when these disparate parts come together, the lead guitar line following frontman Andy Phipp's vocals in antiphony as he sings self-deprecatingly, "Emily, I need to learn some control" -- and then into explosion once more as the full band comes in, wider and more expansive than ever.
"Mona" by Maurice Marion
“Mona” is pure bliss, a standout track with lush, balanced production. In the verses, frontman Andy Phipps’s doubled vocals blend perfectly with trembling guitars and tinny synths, all drenched in reverb to create a varied, complex color palette. The chorus modulates to a minor key to present the main hook, a darker, descending melody accompanied by three cymbal crashes and some ferociously funky bass. After the second chorus comes a bridge, a twitching soup of guitars put through a quivering delay, all leading to the climax of the song, a recap of the chorus where the hook is emotively restated in the verses' major key.
For all its luxuriant textures, “Mona” avoids the trap of only communicating a “vibe,” an empty series of listless textures symptomatic of today's apathetic reverb rock. The chorus melody, where Phipps begs “do it cause I’m already dead," is delivered passionately and in demand of the listener’s attention. It’s not clear who he’s speaking to, what “it” is, or why he’s supposedly “dead,” but he sings the line as if there’s something truly desperate at stake, something worth caring about. If Phipps is already dead, “Mona" speaks boldly from his grave.
"I Wanna Die" and "Don't Wanna Die" by Caleb Oldham
Sonically, "I Wanna Die" and "Don't Wanna Die" are as disparate as their song titles. The former is a washed out, faraway, lullaby where the singer places himself "by the water in the shade of your body." The backing guitar swims in a churning loop, while Phipps listlessly moans like he's begging to return to the seductive, enveloping warmth of the womb. "Don't Wanna Die," on the other hand, is a clean, upbeat antithesis that rubs its eyes of the fog still lingering from the previous track. The guitar is busy, as if to expel any worry the listener might have about the frontman's suicidal intentions. That is, until we reach the chorus, and all the instruments fade out in a moment of paranoid vengeance that has the singer cooing, "If everything is true," before breaking down: "I'd be careful if I was you...don't want to be angry...you're making me lonely."
This oscillation between jubilation and anguish is at the core of PRO TEENS. The contrast between these two tracks (and other points of symmetry like the dually-titled "Mona" and "Lisa") reflects a theme that runs throughout the entire album: indecisiveness to the point of self-torture. From the beginning, Phipps admits to needing to learn more "Control," but over the course of eleven tracks has trouble finding his peace. At the end of the day, even if it takes place over "flailing arms," "Don't Wanna Die," seems to find some consolation in the fact that "that's just the way it is."
"Randle Can't Handle" by Graham Johnson
If there's a track on PRO TEENS that most channels the neuron-sparking electricity of 2014's "Puberty," it's closing cut "Randal Can't Handle." Phipps's voice manages, in two-and-a-half minutes, to move between all of the following: semi-serious concern, tongue-in-cheek seduction, and histrionic shrieking; edging daring, tempestuous silliness, and outright comedy. That the band self-identifies as a pop, rather than rock, group is telling here: whenever the music approaches over-seriousness, it's pushed over the edge by playful instrumentations and Phipps' delivery into mock gravitas -- rolled R's, ludic groans, and zipping guitar solos.
PRO TEENS is out October 3rd on Moone Records. There will be an album release show this Saturday at TEMPEHOSTILE.