A person isn’t characterized by change itself, but rather the way in which they adapt to it. So too, is the case with Teen Agers. The Orlando, FL quartet has dealt with the whole gamut – new careers, cities, members, writing styles, and devastating loss. It’s this struggle with change and search for catharsis that characterizes Teen Agers’ latest effort, When We Were.
Teen Agers is the collaborative effort of Justin Goldman, Jordan Shroyer, Nick Noble, and Johnathan Duvoisin. A previous iteration of the band saw the release of I Hate It (Anchorless Records, 2013) – a high-energy, melodic, debut LP reminiscent of mainstays like Hot Water Music and Small Brown Bike – followed up by a 2015 split with Tampa, FL’s Wolf-Face (Say-10 Records), and two EPs on Smartpunk Records respectively titled Young Gods (2016) and Keystones (2017). Each traced a path of natural and steady creative growth for the band. However, 2017 would see that path drop sheer off the face of the planet.
After replacing drummer and founding member Kyle MacDougall, seeing lead-singer and principal creative member Justin Goldman changing careers and moving to another state – leading to a complete reinvention of the way the band operated – Teen Agers received news of the tragic loss of a family-like figure to the band. Tattered and hopelessly heavy-hearted, the band did the only thing that still felt familiar: create. With the help of newly-enlisted drummer Duvoisin, Teen Agers would convene on a monthly basis to meticulously pore over rough ideas in whirlwind weekend sessions. What would follow is Teen Agers’ most compelling material to date.
When We Were is contemplative, urgent, reflective, and comfortable with the writhing in its own skin. Goldman’s flaws are fleshed out in almost real time as he contemplates every last one. He recalls “the album channels the feeling of loss, defeat, at times questioning your sanity and a yearning for yesterday rather than our present problems.” Having allowed themselves three months of recording time in a homebase of sorts – Orlando, FL’s Audio Compound (A Day To Remember, Neck Deep, Wage War) – Teen Agers were able to explore ideas and sort through their visceral emotions naturally. Instrumentally, songs like Jar Breaker evoke a vague familiarity with Teen Agers of years past, but its contrasting lyrics leave the song firmly planted in darker territories we’ve yet to see the band inhabit. Lyrics like “They really want to give me medicine / They really want to see me taking it / Let the chemicals flow through my brain / Through the obstacles of my day-to-day” sees Goldman gobsmacked by his new reality as he trudges into deep, murky chasms of self-reflection and faces the demons he finds there. Meanwhile, songs like Self Abuse tread the same spaces lyrically (Yes my mind’s made up / Yes I self abuse / I’ll take my time with it / Until I make my way to you), but showcase a sound even Teen Agers may have never seen coming. Chromatic progressions and dissonance lay a poignant, jagged foundation as Goldman comes to terms with his descent into the abyss.
At its best, change can be enlightening. At its worst, destructive. When We Were is somehow both. The record documents Teen Agers’ white-knuckle struggle to turn the latter into the former. A band in both organizational and personal turmoil entered the gauntlet in tatters and exited stronger versions of themselves, wearing their scars like badges (for better or for worse). When We Were is both a visceral documentation of Teen Agers’ trudge through Hell and the product of it. They’ve seen the bottom. Teen Agers has felt the brimstone and clawed their way back to solid ground. If adaptation is the true measure of character, then Teen Agers has got it in droves.