(PIAS Recordings, out Fri 6 Apr 2018)
Time to sink or swim.
It’s a curious thing. When one thinks of “punk music”, you may be forgiven for imagining the raucous mayhem of The Sex Pistols in their mid seventies heyday or, on the other side of the pond, the two minute stabs of mock stupid cool by The Ramones. How ever you want to frame the genre, Ghent three-piece Teen Creeps either have a pretty unique idea of what punk was/is or are intent on slapping arbitrary labels onto their music that don’t exactly fit their sound.
Birthmarks is the culmination of three year’s work, following on from an early EP and 7”, and, on the face of it, everything seems to have been planned with the hope of providing solid ground for success, ably recruiting the help of Rory Atwell (The Vaccines, Veronica Falls) as producer and recording in a floating studio anchored in The Thames. In the end, the band are left treading water.
The problem is, Teen Creeps are so caught up in emulating all the bands that they listened to back in the day, that they forget to actually be themselves. Birthmarks is the kind of battered indie-rock mixtape from the 90s that Millennials find when rummaging in their parent’s attic – kinda fun but hard to see it making a comeback.
First track and recent single Sidenote starts with plenty of intent, charging out the trap with a guitar line lifted directly from The Wedding Present’s Seamonsters, replete with frantic drumming and the vocal refrain of “the last thing on your mind”. It’s a pretty decent indicator of what’s to come. The frayed and undone riffs of Thread, start-stop thrasher Will and the angsty Unravel all follow an identikit cut and paste exercise culled from the band’s obvious influences.
Dinosaur Jr, Foo Fighters (on the elongated, fuzzy Mercury) and even Green-era R.E.M (on longest and lyrically introspective track Good Intentions) are all referenced here, leaving you wondering where the musical heart of the band really sits.
Indeed, the music isn’t helped by a pretty reticent production job by Atwell, failing to prod hard enough at a band who would certainly benefit from a bit of guidance by an experienced hand. That’s a bit of a shame because there are moments on the album that might allow Teen Creeps the foundation to explore more abundant waters.
Hemispheres is nicely driven along by its jittery, droning bass hook and the incisive lead guitar work adds the kind of hidden depth missing from the majority of the album whilst Hindsight angles a more poppy, melodic slant that may serve the group well if they can learn to confidently express their own ideas. It would be interesting to see how these songs may develop in a live setting.
Last track Forging Kindness might be regarded as a subconscious plea to the listener, urging us to “just be kind” but it similarly fails to provide the necessary muscle to make you believe in what’s being asked.
Let’s hope that Teen Creeps get to shrug off their debut as a tentative toe-dip before taking the plunge for real without feeling the need to be subjugated by their own influences. It’s a big world out there, baby.