ALBUM REVIEW: TEEN “The Way and Color”

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R&B informed pop trio TEEN are capable of complex, psychedelic hooks. Their minimalist beats and thoughtful melody and harmony layering, inspired by artists like Erykah Badu and D’Angelo, create a hypnotic dialogue between the instruments and between the music and the audience. These three sisters, vocalist Teeny Lieberson, keyboardist Lizzie Lieberson, and drummer Katherine Lieberson, are joined by bassist Boshra AlSaadi on their second album The Way and Color. The new record is full of uplifting melodic structure, interesting vocal harmonizing, and discussions of power dynamics.

The opening track “Rose 4 U” is  poppy and upbeat with the slightest hint of strangeness underlying it. From the start, there’s a sense of delving in–yet to what, we are unsure. With entrancing, repetitive verse lines pinned by addictive rhythmic dynamics, the listener is pulled in. Throughout, the girls break into strong harmonization with R&B vocals that meet ambient echoes, lending the track emotional weight. The harmonizing stops towards the end of the song with Teeny singing one melody and the background singers  moving against her. There’s a typical kind of suspenseful build up as it comes to a close. Teeny’s voice isn’t mind-blowing on this track, but that actually works in TEEN’s favor here, making what could be an overly complicated song easier to approach.

“Not For Long,” The Way and Color’s single, has an intense concentration on voice for the first minute or so. Then the beat kicks in creating a strange mix of hoarse fragility in the vocals and a rolling, minimal mantra. “You should watch your step,” the listener is warned. Perhaps these are not ladies you want to mess with. The background vocals add weight to the melody in a way that is not necessarily hooky, but still has a powerful effect. TEEN has been compared to Dirty Projectors on more than one occasion–a similarity evident here in that all of the different musical parts are equally important, no vocals or instrumentals are given precedence over others. At the end  brass come in (a common thread with throughout the album) as if an epic film is about to start. The echoey chorus still overlays the track, taking he listener to a more dreamy place at three and a half minutes. The final section is lo-fi, closer to chill-wave than anything else on the album and adds a sobering effect after all of the ups and downs.

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My favorite track is probably “Sticky” which draws heaviest from R&B of all the songs on the album, and reminds me of Neo-Soul trio Moonchild. This is a super catchy song, but once again casual in its execution. The slow beat and mellow tones are easy to navigate, though not always simple. A gospel-like section emerges at a minute and a half, complete with ambiance and clapping. This could be why it stands out so clearly from the rest: the choir vocals are electrifying and reassuring at the same time, riding the line between gospel and psychedelic.  Overall every part sounds incredible, showcasing the production quality on the track as a whole, and allowing us to get lost in it thanks to the exceptional mixing.

The most heavily electronic elements I heard from this album were at the beginning of “Breathe Low and Deep”. It starts with an other-worldly melody that brings us onto the bands emotional level. Teeny strains her voice, lending it softness albeit it a grating quality at the same time. When brass comes in around two and a half minutes, the mood dropped in a way. It felt out of place, rather than perhaps like a change of pace that it was intended to. But then a truly wonderful shift happens. “Breathe loudly,” Teeny encourages us in her varied vocal tones: and I’m not going to lie, it is pretty inspirational. The guitar and horns at four minutes are full of doom, like the peak of tragedy or violence in a film, completely unexpected and invigorating. It took the focus of the track very suddenly to one’s own breathing, imbuing it with anxiety and making its mantra to “breathe loudly”, a display of inner stress rather than quietude.

Throughout, there’s a lot that can send the listener’s head spinning. All of the quick changes, sectional disparities and booming can be overwhelming. This is the kind of album you have to be awake and prepared to listen to. Even though the songs have great hooks and engage with the listener, there’s no time to take a break. It immerses the listener entirely. At times, they come very close to what verges on the familiar, but by keeping the R&B thread strong with vocalization and intonation, TEEN continues to stand out. The horns they use compliment the melody, and the production ensures that Teeny’s clear, hoarse vocals sound beautiful and unconcerned all at once. This album is truly rich and exciting.

Listen to “Not For Long” below:

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