Teenage Kicks = Rock ‘n Roll

by: D. Heavyfeather

Teenage Kicks’ new EP Be On My Side announces its presence raucously with a feeding back, distorted guitar that tells you that this isn’t going to be one of those sissy, oversensitive, synthesizer, noodling albums that have dominated pop and (supposedly) rock stations and charts in recent years. This relatively new, guitar-focused band from Toronto plays rock and roll with no apologies on their newest effort, to be released Feb. 28.

The lead song, Setting Son, is a spirited, speedy tune with a great chorus hook asking “Don’t you want me?”, the lyrics punctuated rhythmically by the instruments in a memorable way. Right from the first song, a great feature of this band is the vocals and vocal harmonies provided by brothers Peter and Jeff van Helvoort. This is a strength that continues throughout the entire album, adding depth to the choruses and highlighting other lyrics as well. This and the heavy guitar work define the band’s sound. If I had one criticism of this song it would be that the initial guitar feedback threw me off the first time I heard it — maybe because it does not rhythmically flow into the beginning of the full-on song. It’s a risky and gutsy start to the EP, though, and I appreciate that.

I Get What You Give is the second song. It shows mature song writing with its lilting groove and interesting lyrics. There is also space for the song to breathe as they sing “Good things come to those who wait/ Good things come to those who wait on tables”. Indeed, the overall album shows that the group is maturing from its initial EP, Rational Anthems. The songs seem more carefully orchestrated, and more robust in their instrumentation. The vocals on the second EP also seem to me more musical; there is a lot more of a yelling/singing tone on the first that has energy but is not as melodic, and likely would be difficult to sustain live for a number of nights in a row. This tune finishes with a nice ritardando (slow down) and then there is some extra, almost silly, effected guitar thrown in afterwards. That’s the only thing I can find wrong with this memorable and well-crafted song.

Track 3, Middle of the Night transitions between galloping and choppy rhythmic grooves smoothly and features, as do all of the songs, great full-guitar sounds that are missing from so much pop/rock music these days. Peter van Helvoort, Patrick Marchent and new addition Christian Turner are all listed as axe men in the credits and the guitar sounds are all thick and meaty — no insipid, whining, or thin tones here.

And Everybody Knows It follows, a stomper with melancholy lyrics, like the hook “Everybody knows it, you reap what you sow”. The band’s sound could be described as retro rock, but not going so far back as, say, The Sheepdogs’ sound. It reminds me of some of the (rare) non-grunge rock of the ’90s, like a heavied-up Refreshments or Wallflowers sound. There is a nice breakdown in the song where they sing, “ … hoping someone take me home/ and love me decently” before building nicely back into the groove with bluesy Rolling Stones-esque guitar bend licks.

In Shook Our Bones, the musical and solid rhythm section comprised of Jeff van Helvoort on bass and drummer Cameron Brunt do just that to introduce the song with a pounding rhythmic opening. The song describes growing up, love and all that comes with it exclaiming, “Remember when you shook our bones” in a powerful statement of remembrance.   It’s a simple but catchy song that works.

The dark horse of the EP is the final song, You Shall Not Want. This is a medium tempoed, swung blues song is very reminiscent of early Rolling Stones, with the trademark shuffle beat the guitar emphasizes in the verse. The theme is romantic. The guitars feel like Ron and Keith, but the vocals are better than Mick’s. It doesn’t really fit in with the other songs on the EP, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable.

Tour dates and many videos (which range from live footage, to artistic, to strange) can be found on at the Teenage Kicks website. If you like guitar driven rock and roll along the lines of fellow Canadians Sloan or The Trews I suggest you try to find them live or pick up their EP, Be On My Side. In I Get What You Give the lyrics report that it “won’t be long ‘til they all sing your songs” and considering the strong material on this album, these words might be a prediction.

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