I love getting recommendations for bands. Since I know dick all about Australian bands, I’ve been getting a lot of that in recent months. Basically, everyone I know or meet’s been chucking names at me left, right, and centre.
The Smith Street Band was one such recommendation, the finest pointer I’ve had in years actually. It turns out they’re not only awesome but have awesome taste since it was them who, in turn, just got me into Sweet Teens.
There’s no surprise at all, musically, why their Melbourne peers have been recommending them to anyone who’ll listen. The hoarse and throaty vocal, the guitars peeling the paint off the walls, the rhythms threatening to fall apart any second – so far so Smith Street, right?
The thing with Sweet Teens though, is that their musical core is firmly in the past. Two specific points in the past to be precise, 1977 and 2002. For this band it’s like the history of recorded sound consists of Joe Strummer’s early work, The Libertines’ Up The Bracket, and – er – that’s it. No fooling – it’s absolutely fucking uncanny in some places. Go and download their debut album (it’s free, brilliantly), take one listen to opener ‘This Ain’t England’ and feel the irony gland in your mind swell until it bursts. It couldn’t sound more like that Whitechapel scene if it dusted off its Guards jacket and slept with Kate Moss.
That’s the easy version though.
The more feeble-minded will hear the Libs influence or the Clash homage and write them off as clones, pastiche, or copycats. You should stick with it though – it’s got a heart the size of a fucking Volkswagen, plus I’m pretty sure this band both get the joke and don’t give a fuck if you don’t.
Taking a quick spin through the records that have lasted the years with me, it’s the ones where the band has managed to convince me that they really and truly couldn’t be having any more fun, that there is literally nowhere they’d rather be right now than singing this song, just for me, right now.
Sweet Teens have got that sort of charm. In hip-hop production circles (the sort of circles I move in regularly, obviously) there’s a special type of near-autistic obsession reserved for achieving the right amount of ‘swing’ in the beat, the slight time adjustments that give it a human-sounding edge. Mike Skinner of The Streets was a master of this, with programmed beats nudged here and there to sound like it’s marginally off-kilter.This lot have set the internal swing gauge in their head to eleven.
From the first notes, the whole thing threatens to fall apart at the seams almost every few bars, but it manages to sound like it’s a result of the fact they’re just HAVING TOO MUCH FUCKING FUN TO WORRY ABOUT THE TIME SIGNATURE! And then they chuck in a sample taken from the cricket commentary. How can you not love this?
Anyway, back to that criticism that they sound like other stuff, done well before. Y’see, this is what technology has done to us – as someone’s almost certainly already said, the problem with anyone being able to record a professional-sounding demo in their bedroom is that literally anyone can record a professional-sounding demo in their bedroom.
Broadly, I’m all for making it easier for anyone to slap a tune down, but let’s be honest, a lot of new music is turning into teenage poetry, the sort of thing that should never be let out into the world. The next update of Garageband should contain some kind of artificial editing intelligence that won’t let you save the thing unless it’s actually any fucking good.
We’re way past the end of history when it comes to music, and complaining that something sounds like something else is just a waste of everybody’s time – everything does that now. The only thing left to distinguish the wheat from the shite though is no longer raw musical talent, it’s personality.
And that, friends, is why Sweet Teens can be this artfully shambolic and stuff their influences front and centre. That’s why, with their force of charisma and volume of pure unadulterated child-like joy, they come across all box fresh and shiny and new and pure, dead brilliant.
Tags: sweet teens