Besides gaining recognition via a grand introduction on a little-known blog called MTV.com, Teen Mom, out of Washington DC, has fabricated an impressive EP. Pulling inspiration from post-punk, shoegaze, and an apparent Morrissey-esque quality of “reveling in your own sorrow”, Teen Mom has a leg up, aligning themselves among their peers as equals, rather than simple imitators. Snagging their name from the oft-offensive MTV show, Teen Mom, their songs might have the counterintuitive, emotional reminiscence of a hormonal, teenage era, but they carefully subvert any pubescent gripes.
The opener, “You and I” could easily be a single from an early Death Cab for Cutie or All-Time Quarterback release from the early 00s; it’s natural to need to find something deep underneath, but it revels in simplicity and bashfulness. Chris Kelly, the vocalist, keeps his instrument just above a whisper through most of the tunes, yet with this track it’s the centerpiece, only overshadowed near its end with a roaring crash of guitars. The rapid-fire drums on “Always Happy” juxtapose the demure bass and sullen vocals, and much like the rest of the album Kelly continues to be the anchor, while the intricate arrangements mount over, eventually trickling down to form a cohesive mix. “All the Time” possesses the most shoegaze quality of any track on the album, channeling Kevin Shields with swirling guitars over a few breathy words.
The second half of the EP unleashes “I Wanna Go Out”, a standout single, and a song that could have easily risen Teen Mom to fame. An anti-hero anthem, it tells the tale of someone living on the outskirts of life, desperate to find a way in, but not entirely willing to make the extra effort. The companion video depicts a party scene, seemingly shot in the 80s, with a boy falling for a girl and eventually winning her over. It’s a love song about wanting to be loved, but unsure of how love actually happens. The following single, “Say My Name” could be a continuation, chronicling the hopeless search for something more than what’s in reach. It ends with “Gehry”, which alludes to the aforementioned “reveling in sadness”; it sounds more like The Smiths than I’ve heard in quite a long time.
While their ambitious arrangements might be the cornerstone of their sound, sometimes bordering on overuse but never crossing that line, the juxtaposition of thick arrangements to whispery vocals adds intensity to subtle lyrics that could have easily been cast aside in favor of a grander output. Self-proclaiming themselves as “beach pop”, seldom can a band exhibit such a defined sound in only twenty minutes time. And while it seems instinctive, the erratic changes in sound and delivery on Mean Tom are more strengths than weaknesses.