Album Of The Week: Chumped Teenage Retirement
Two things, before I get into this. First, TV On The Radio’s Seeds already got a Premature Evaluation, so it’s not eligible for Album Of The Week. But it’s a very good album, and you should listen to it. Second: I really hate Ariel Pink’s pom pom. I hate it so much.
Here are the complete lyrics to “The Pains Of Being…,” the second-to-last song on New York band Chumped’s debut album Teenage Retirement: “We get older / Time gets faster / You stay the same / Ohhhhhhhh.” Teenage Retirement is a wordy album and maybe even a talky one. Frontwoman Anika Pyle spends the whole thing outlining specific and often excruciating personal encounters, then thinking about the way those encounters reverberate afterward. “The Pains Of Being…” is the one time she gives her lyric notebook a rest. At four minutes and 40 seconds, it’s the album’s longest song, and it gives Pyle and her bandmates a chance to try out practically every heart-wringing punk rock trick they know, building quiet post-rock clangor into crashing, ragged fuzz-guitar crescendos and then doing it all over again. But still, those lyrics resonate, the “you stay the same” bit in particular. Pyle sings it over and over again, letting disappointment but also admiration creep into her voice, implying a whole lot of different things and never quite settling on one. The “Ohhhhhhhh” resonates, too, even though it’s only barely a word. It resonates because of Pyle’s voice, a high-lonesome howl. That voice can sell the complex emotional ideas of her lyrics, but it sounds great stretching out wordlessly while she and the rest of her band build big, loud, sad fuzz-pedal monoliths.
Chumped are a relatively young band — three kids from Colorado who moved to New York to give this music thing a shot, another one who they met at the farmers’ market where he was working and eventually recruited. They’ve all been juggling part-time jobs in New York for months, and they’ve all just now quit, with no real plan in place, so that they can all go on tour. They don’t exactly have a plan for the future. Maybe that’s where the urgency in their music comes from. Chumped don’t sound like they’re taking on the world; they don’t have the audible confidence of people who know they have the world’s age. Instead, they play fast and messy, moving from one big hook to the next like they’re afraid to let your attention wander. It’s clearly Anika Pyle’s band, even if they don’t present themselves that way. One of her male bandmates gets to sing one song, but it’s clear that this is a Chvrches situation where it’s OK that a dude can sing the occasional song but the girl is the obvious main attraction, the driving force. That voice is a wondrous thing: Bell-clear, incisive, deeply human.
It’s so tempting to talk about Chumped like they’re an emo band. The band has talked about Weezer and Saves The Day as big influences, and Pyle has gone ahead and admitted that the Starting Line were once her favorite band. In the ragged rush of the band’s guitars and the crash of their melodies, it’s possible to hear plenty of emo influence. Pyle’s voice sometimes does open-wound things like Rainer Maria’s Caithlin De Marrais once did. And there’s a vulnerable, desperate everyday quality to the band’s lyrics; they conjure the same young-and-drunk-and-lonely feelings as the early Alkaline Trio. But emo is a term with a lot of baggage — Warped Tours, Nightmare Before Christmas lunchboxes, Seth Cohen. There’s none of that on Teenage Retirement. (There wasn’t any of that in emo until, like, 2004, either, but it’s tough to imagine a 10-years-ago Chumped getting sucked into that system the way so many other bands did.) Teenage Retirement doesn’t really fit into the whole emo-revival thing that’s gotten so much online ink lately. Instead, Chumped’s contemporary peers are bands like Waxahatcee and Titus Andronicus — tough and literate and emotionally openhearted bands doing big things within a pop-punk tradition that doesn’t feel limiting because they don’t treat it as anything limiting.
Pyle sings about a very particular period in a lot of people’s lives, being young and broke and single and wondering if you’ll stay broke and single forever. (The album ends with “Old And Tired,” a song of empathy for someone old and broke and single.) On the first verse of album opener “December Is The Longest Month,” she’s sitting on a bar stool, watching snow fall outside the window, realizing she should probably get back home, now quite able to will herself to leave. “Hot 97 Summer Jam,” the glorious single, is about pining over someone who’s right there: “We’re reading books / We’re drinking coffee / I’m looking at you / You’re looking through me.” The chorus of “Name That Thing” is the sort of thing that kicks you right in the gut if you’re in a particular sort of mood: “And we drank, and we talked shit, and I was happy / Tried so desperately to hold on to that feeling / Of being young, of being sure, of being lucky / Cuz I get down, and it’s so easy to feel nothing.” “Something About Geography” is about being stuck on lost moments and regrets — times when maybe you should’ve kissed someone or said what you were thinking — to the point where you’re actually nostalgic for them, and knowing that feeling this way is a cliche anyway.
Maybe the music on Teenage Retirement is a cliche, too. But that’s sort of what’s great about it. Chumped aren’t doing anything new, musically, or even combining old things in new ways. But they’re hitting those old notes with verve and conviction and emotional force. They mean what they’re singing. And they can write a fucking hook. Teenage Retirement has choruses that’ll rattle around in your head all day. The band plays with speed and impact, and producer John Meredith (a “meatalhead from Colorado,” per the band, who now records punk bands in Brooklyn) knows how to make those instruments sound huge without cleaning them up too much. And so even if Teenage Retirement doesn’t offer anything new, exactly, it’s the best kind of comfort food. It surges and flares and swoons in the right ways, at the best moments. It doesn’t just remind you of old records, records that might’ve once meant a lot to you. It is one of those records. And if you give it the chance, it could mean a whole lot to you right now.
Teenage Retirement is out now on Anchorless. Stream it below.
Other albums of note out this week:
• TV On The Radio’s grand, heavy-hearted return Seeds.
• Ariel Pink’s dizzy, trollish, absurdist idea-splooge pom pom.
• The Lorde-curated soundtrack to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.
• Andy Stott’s apocalyptic post-dance album Faith In Strangers.
• The self-titled debut from former Karate frontman Geoff Farina’s new band Exit Verse.
• Raspberry Bulbs’ stripped down, punked-up black metal attack Privacy.
• Bryan Ferry’s vampiric, guest-heavy Avonmore.
• Buzzcocks’ reliably jittery The Way.
• Savages and Bo Ningen’s single-track, 37-minute collab Words To The Blind.
• Fryars’ auteurish bass-pop album Power.
• Angelo De Augustine’s hushed, fragile debut Spirals Of Silence.
• RL Grime’s guest-heavy bass-music LP VOID.
• Frozen By Sight, the collaborative album from Maxïmo Park’s Paul Smith and Field Music’s Peter Brewis.
• Native America’s giddy Southern rocker Grown Up Wrong.
• Rupert Angeleyes’ retro psych-popper Young Summer.
• The soundtrack to the Annie remake, which heavily features Sia.
• Fugazi’s First Demo, never commercially available before now.
• Ty Segall’s $INGLE$ 2 rarities collection.
• David Bowie’s career-spanning collection Nothing Has Changed.
• Wilco’s 20th-anniversary compilations What’s Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994-2014 and Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994-2014.
• The double-disc While No One Was Looking: Toasting 20 Years Of Bloodshot Records compilation.
• The massive tribute compilation The Art Of McCartney.
• Girlpool’s great self-titled EP.
• Diarrhea Planet’s Angels In The Outfield EP.
• Guerrilla Toss’ Smack The Brick EP.
• Kitty’s Frost Bite EP.
• Teengirl Fantasy’s Thermal EP.
• T.O.L.D.’s Heaven EP.
• Dirt Dress’ Revelations EP.
• Crying’s Get Olde / Second Wind EP.
• Nick Hakim’s Where Will We Go Pt. 1 & 2 EP.
• Charlie Cunningham’s Outside Things EP.
• Freddie Gibbs & Madlib’s Knicks Remix EP.
• Big Ups and Washer’s split EP.
• Whirr and Nothing’s new split 12″.
• Ovlov, Ex-Breathers, Woozy, and Gnarwhal’s four-way split.