TEEN Dives Into the Gray Areas of Fading Love on 'Good Fruit'
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In many ways, TEEN's 2016 album Love Yes could be viewed as a happy ending; as a culminating batch of songs about embracing love and commitment. Yet life barrels on long after any story concludes, and complications inevitably arise. That mindset materializes with the members of TEEN — drummer Katherine Lieberson and her sisters, multi-instrumentalists Teeny and Lizzie — on their fourth album, Good Fruit. The Nova Scotia-born, Brooklyn-based band describes the record as "what happens after love fades." But Good Fruit delves deeper than a typical breakup album: In these 10 songs, TEEN explores the complexities and contradictions in love, loss and learning to leave the past behind.
In "Only Water," Teeny processes grief after the death of their father, the composer Peter Lieberson. As she remembers saying goodbye, his absence functions as an intangible presence lingering over her as she sings, "The last time I saw your face, yeah / You had aged so rapidly / A little piece of youth remained, yeah / And in youth, death does not hold proximity." In the climactic chorus, the song blooms into a soaring anthem celebrating life, as Teeny finds closure from the elemental and otherworldly forces that connect us after we're gone. "If we're only only water, aren't we one in time?" she sings atop a fluttering cascade of arpeggios and dance beats. Later, in the spare and warbling "Radar," Lizzie recounts an unsettling, long-buried trauma that still stalks her memories years later. "No lover can understand / I can barely say it out loud / It hibernates underneath my ribs / Stays there, gets cozy with my heart / Quiet, ashamed," she sings. "A little girl knows when to run and hide / A little girl knows how to be small / A little girl knows when to close her eyes."
Elsewhere, Teeny scrutinizes the intertwined nature of love and lust ("Ripe"), escapes suffocating relationships that control her identity and ambition ("Runner"), and confronts manipulative men who foist limiting preconceptions and unattainable fantasies upon women ("Putney"). And in "Pretend," Lizzie admits going through the motions when the hopeful luster of a partnership stagnates into regret: "Why can't you love me like you said you would? / Why do I always feel misunderstood? / You and I can't pretend anymore."
What makes these wrenching themes resonate is the way TEEN's music balances darkness with buoyancy and immediacy. Written and self-produced in Montreal and New York throughout 2017 — alongside longtime member Boshra AlSaadi (who's since left TEEN to focus on her own music) and frequent collaborator Miles Francis — the album represents another transformation in the band's infectious and artful pop. That's apparent in the bass-heavy grinding sequencers in "Runner," as well as the pulsating synth textures and throbbing, dance-floor-ready beats in "Luv 2 Luv." Fearless in its zigzagging arrangements and vibrant instrumentation, the group never shies away from showing its teeth, piercing through the blur of glistening keyboards with noisy electronic tones or chopped-up samples ("Popular Taste"). TEEN also knows when to pare down, giving moody, spacious songs like "Pretend" or "Putney" room to highlight the Liebersons' interwoven harmonies — a manifestation of the innate musical chemistry and intimacy the sisters share.
That collaboration also resides at the core of Good Fruit's centerpiece, "Connection" — a silky, slowly unfurling ballad in which each ruminates on the dynamics of companionship from differing viewpoints. First, Lizzie describes the contentment and calm that comes from a supportive partner. "Being with you is all I need / How your presence brings me comfort / When I am with you I am at ease / And I'm no longer alone," she sings. "A loving friend is all I need." Then, Teeny challenges the meaning and motives of connection and interdependence, asking aloud to herself, "Is this the life you want to live?" As a band that defines itself through constant searching, TEEN sounds most stirring when coupling upbeat and elated sounds with such unflinching honesty. For all its yearning and heartache, Good Fruit lands on a self-actualizing message about working through personal pain and coming out stronger on the other side.
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