The Linda Lindas : Growing Up
Cover up the bio with your hand; let’s talk about this record. Growing Up, the debut record the Linda Lindas, is a hybrid of power pop, hard rock, alternative rock, and punk with flecks of post-punk. Close your eyes and its not hard to imagine these songs emerging from any number of great groups, like Tegan and Sara, Sleater-Kinney or Best Coast. This is the type of music that in another, worse world would be called pop-punk; this hybrid of power pop and punk rock is an old mixture, from Buzzcocks and back, but here harkens more to a rougher-clad Cheap Trick than a Green Day (good group!) or (gag) blink-182. The sense of vivacity and color here at times reminds of Shonen Knife, a group that despite its aging members always seems to thrash and holler like teenagers or that particularly early 20s energy where the force of adulthood meets the energies of youth. There are occasion colors to chords or slightly effected passages that call to mind the perkier moments of The Cure from records like Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me or The Top.
You can lift your hand now. A fact known to a good number of you that clicked on this, the Linda Lindas are perhaps best known not for their music but for the remarkably young ages of the members of the group. The group formed roughly four years ago; their youngest member is now 11, while the oldest is 17. Do the math yourselves. This fact is best put out of mind as early as possible given the way it unduly colors our understanding of the music, albeit not in the way you might expect. A lot of people are girded for someone to be overly praiseworthy of precocious and talented youngsters, willing to overlook scattershot songwriting and playing for sheer promise. Discounting that this is in fact perfectly in keeping with the ebullient spirit of punk, the facts veer quite in the opposite direction. That undue cynicism renders people more often than not to unduly discount the rightly-earned buzz surrounding this group. Perhaps we will learn later that one or more of the players came from money, explaining access to instruments or the like; but until that day, you can clamp your hand over the biographical information and get an earful of varied punk tunes ranging, depending on the vocalist/lyricist of the song, from primal anger to wistfulness to hopeful desire.
Their youth only becomes textually relevant when looking at the subject matter of these songs. I’m typically not a lyrics-oriented listener, but this type of music is more often driven by the lyrics and vocal affect than the instrumental arrangements behind them. In this context, what in other hands would be songs about youth in the abstract, evoking images of childhood and schoolyard days as metaphors for innocence, here are quite literal. What this reveals is something we all somewhat know inside, which is that as we age we sometimes look back on youth as relatively uncomplicated as graced with a kind of innocence but in reality is much more internally complex, where it is precisely our lack of experience that would otherwise help to ground and make sense of our lives that makes every moment searing in its intensity. In fact, these types of songs tend to reference the images and freedom of youth even as their writers age precisely because the sheer intensity of that experience tends to sadly fade over time, each turn in our lives mitigating a once terrible height as we learn the valley will perhaps not be so low just as the hill may not be so high.
Given that these players are vastly nonwhite, not to mention girls, adds another layer of experience to sit with in this material. Much like Taylor Swift’s earliest work, this may be disquieting to certain listeners or critics because of its unvarnished windows into lives we have never lived. I have never been not white and I have never been a girl, nor have I had to live those lives in the midst of the world as we know it now. That these girls are as lyrically sharp as they are, knowing right when to make a phrase elusive and beautiful and when to make it brutally direct, allows a direct conduit to the place where these metaphors that haunt the rest of adult life emerge from. But the benefit of these pieces isn’t just in that unvarnished window toward the grit of the reality of the days of youth. The material hides a maturity that is at times a shock; “Cuantes Veces” in particularly is a maturely arranged and crafted song drawing from Latin music and offers some exciting pathways the group can explore as they age into different, wider musical tastes. The fact that this record closes with a proper studio version of “Racist, Sexist Boy,” the song whose live performance thrust them into the limelight in the first place, feels fitting; that it feels like the decidedly least mature song on the record is a good thing, not a bad one, indicating that the band is consciously and continuously undergoing growth. (Though it is perhaps a little unfortunate that none of the other pieces on the record draw on the same grinding Melvins’ style heaviness as the distorted bass-driven verses of that track.)
A debut album’s job is manifold. First, it is to capture the best material the group has written up to that point to offer the strongest possible platform to build upon. The Linda Lindas have certainly accomplished this, with their newest written material here sounding decidedly their best. Second, it is to provide the fertile ground for growth or, for more aesthetically constrained projects, to define the sonic limits and intent of a project. Here as well, the breadth of the record already surpasses that which the group was known for and shows the girls’ aptitude at a slightly wider and more sophisticated range of ideas than we’d already heard. Hopefully, this sense of experimentation and maturing palette continues with them over time; they already show great aptitude at grasping a variety of styles. The contemporary Cheap Trick-meets-Joan Jett rocker and album opened “Oh!” alone is worth the price of admission. It was a pleasure to stumble into the viral explosion of these talented young girls; that they delivered an even more mature and sonically adventurous debut record is a double treat. Here’s to hoping we get to witness decades of development from them. Here, their age comes back to play in a big, big way; there is a very long road ahead for them, and what wonders we might witness on the way.
Buy this album at Turntable Lab
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.