Teenage Wrist- Still Love (Album Review)

Aug. 2, 2023


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Teenage Wrist started off channeling a healthy amount of shoegaze and other 90s alternative rock like quite a few of their peers but following the departure of bassist/vocalist Kamtin Mohager in 2019 things began to shift.  Their sophomore effort Earth is a Black Hole still had its share of melancholy, but there was a shift towards the poppier side of the 90s influences and the album had an overall brighter aesthetic.  Two years on from that effort, the duo has continued to expand upon these additional influences and as a result Still Love feels like the embodiment of everything alternative from the 90s and early 2000s.  It’s an album of halves, going for a much brighter palette early on before transitioning over to a slightly heavier and drearier sound.  While a few of the earlier songs blur together a bit and the closer feels unnecessary, there’s still a lot to like about what Teenage Wrist is doing here as they’ve captured the essence of that era of rock music.

Opener “Sunshine” feels appropriately named, as it brings in that familiar crunchier tone from the guitar, bass, and drums that defined a lot of alternative rock throughout the 90s and into the 2000s.  There’s that similar balance of heaviness and shimmering melodies that instantly grab you, and Teenage Wrist’s ability to immediately generate a sense of nostalgia without sounding exactly like a specific band is a good thing.  Depending on which groups the most time with during that era either on cassette, CD, or just on the radio, you’re likely to hear different things throughout the first half of Still Love.  For me, I was hearing a lot of Silverchair and early The Smashing Pumpkins mixed with some of the chill vibes of 311 and other artists of that type (which makes sense as 311’s S.A. Martinez guests on “Dark Sky”).  The material moves back over to shoegaze on the title track with denser, heavy flourishes that have gorgeous, reverb heavy melodies over top of them.  The moves from more direct and faster alternative rock to slower, reflective shoegaze on the first half provides some variety, though some of the riffs do run together over repeat listens.  But when Teenage Wrist nails the hooks, they offer up material that listeners will have on repeat for some time to come.  The brighter, jangly tone of “Something Good” in particular sounds like it was drenched in the California sun and washes over you with a warm embrace that’s infectious.  But as enjoyable as the first half is, the shift over to a drearier and melancholic sound is where Still Love stands out the most for me.  The acoustic “Diorama” kicks off this transition with almost Nine Inch Nails sounding electronic bursts that complement darker and sad guitar melodies.  “Cold Case” is closer to full-on grunge, while “Cigarette Two Step” and “Humbug” bring in a bit more biter with guitar work that has a post hardcore sound to it.  “Sprawled” slows things down for a softer, reflective piece where Jimmy Eat World type emo is merged with saxophone arrangements.  It’d be an effective closer, but for whatever reason Teenage Wrist chose to end with “Paloma a.k.a. Ketamine” which feels more like a bonus track that made it onto the regular track list.  This song opens with extended studio chatter and a rougher sound quality, and it stands out too much amongst the rest of the material in a bad way.

The vocals on Still Love channel similar alternative rock influences as the instrumentals.  There’s a pretty wide span of vocal styles that became prominent throughout the 90s, but Teenage Wrist goes for the softer, airier type of singing that soars over top of the recording rather than the gruffer grunge approach.  It’s the type of pitch that’s immediately nostalgic, but that still comes off feeling fresh with how the duo mixes up harmonies.  A lot of the choruses are likely to work their way into your head and not leave for some time to come, which speaks to the band’s ability to craft strong hooks.  Where Earth is a Black Hole had a few guest contributions, for Still Love Teenage Wrist has a slew of them and this shakes things up a bit more.  You get S.A. Martinez as mentioned earlier, but there are also appearances from Softcult, Fear Before the March of Flame’s David Marion, Sister Void, and Kamtin even shows up under his current band name Heavenward.  Each one adds their own flourishes without overshadowing the main duo’s work, but my favorite was David Marion as it’s great to hear his harsher and unpredictable approach again and it makes “Cigarette Two Step” a highlight for me.

Teenage Wrist’s third album is a natural continuation of both the brighter flourishes the last album introduced and the darker, heavier riffs they utilized early on.  It’s one of the purer distillations of everything alternative from the 90s into the 2000s, capturing that sense of nostalgia without simply copying what any one band did back in that timeframe.  Admittedly a few of the earlier songs blur together with similar hooks and I’m not a fan of the final track at all, but these don’t take away from the fact that quite a few of these songs have been on repeat for days.  Whether you’re into the chiller alternative, shoegaze, grunge, or everything in between, give this one a go.  Still Love is available from Epitaph Records.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg