In their 2007 debut LP Teenage Cool Kids typify what it is for a band to be indie-rock. The genre can be be all encapsulating in it’s vagueness and it can be a flimsy definition for any band, (discuss: were The Kooks an indie-rock band?) but from a relatively simplistic indie-rock platform, Teenage Cool Kids created a distinct sound, which did justice to their cult-like status. The band’s 4-piece set up is instantly recognisable and provides a stable base for the album, with twinkly interjections alongside riffs that become catchier and catchier with every listen.
One such riff acts as a set up for the title track, the first song on the album. What becomes apparent however, is the lyrical intent of the album, which is obvious from their first words of ‘Queer Salutations‘ – lead vocalist and songwriter, Andrew Savage, sneers out the words ‘you were rolling on X the night that we first met‘, which provides the punch that the slightly punch-less production prevents the guitars from doing. In the second song, ‘Awkward Type of Girl‘, Savage’s vocals almost exactly follow lead guitarist, Bradley Kerl’s, sharp guitar line through the chorus. This crude technique of explicitly matching the vocals with the guitar melody serves to translate the frankness of the lyrics in their totality while they poke fun at various subjects -‘put on a record, he doesn’t get it/ “I’m not a fan of shallow indie he admitted”‘.
Savage’s vocals are snidely tuneful and their importance cannot be underestimated – they carry the melody of the album, driving it forward and it’s the vocals that stay with you days after listening. Nowhere is this clearer than in ‘Self Abuse‘, for my money the best song on the album. Once again a twinkly riff launches into Savage’s barefaced, almost insolent vocals – ‘there’s so little I have left to scream about’ and the song culminates in the eminently shout-alongable final verse, when all four band members gang up on the lyrics to yell them out – perfectly conveying the sheer joy of being in a band together whilst bemoaning some ex-girlfriend or other.
Famously, Savage is now one of two lead songwriters and vocalists in New York’s fantastic Parquet Courts. He explained in an interview how his songs come about, first as a collection of lyrics which relate to each other in someway and the actual music, normally just a few chords, comes after that. Obviously he was saying this as Parquet Court’s Andrew Savage but it is hard not to extrapolate and say that this is how he wrote songs for the album Queer Salutations, too. Some lyrics from the 5th song on the album, ‘Excursions into Philosophy‘ read:
‘Two years almost two this day I sat where we once sat like I was visiting a grave, you told me here in confidence the only time that you got off is when your brothers friends threw rocks at you and forced you to eat dog shit and called you names that you make your lovers call you when they’re fucking you‘
these words, like many others on the album, don’t necessarily have rhyme or rhythm but are fitted into the song through an extraordinary act of enjambment and confidence, and ultimately there is always a sting in the tail come the end of the stream-of-consciousness. The above lyrics aside, perhaps, Savage proves himself to be a savvy and pithy wordsmith on the album, jeering throughout at various aspects of youth culture he thinks may be contrived, with sarcastic put-downs.
In terms of their sound, Teenage Cool Kids put their cards on the table for Queer Salutations – ‘Reasons Why‘ acts in parts as almost a replica of Built to Spill’s ‘Reasons‘ – and it’s hardly ground-breaking for modern bands to draw on 90’s influences, but Queer Salutations is snappier and blunter and erudite in a more pissed-off way. Savage recorded three albums with Teenage Cool Kids, a band who seemed to become ever so slightly disillusioned come the end of the second record, but with Parquet Courts he has re-harnessed his energy, and it sounds like taking the piss out of teenage kids who think they’re cool is as enjoyable for him now as it was in 2007.