There are times in this business of music when I feel like an eternal teenager, a la Dick Clark or Kurt Loder (though the latter often shows his grumpy old man disdain), and then there are times when I feel ancient, and my writing is the equivalent of throwing rocks at kids playing on my lawn. So, here I am at my computer, listening to a band that gives me both feelings at the same time. Smoosh’s music is rooted in a sense of young DIY ingenuity and vigor, which both brings back memories of youth and reminds me that I am old enough to be the father of the sisters, Chloe and Aysa. At twelve and fourteen respectively, the two girls have already opened for the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Pearl Jam, Death Cab for Cutie, Sleater-Kinney and Cat Power, creating quite a convincing list of extracurricular activities for any college application. Touring the world with the Eels will beat out going to Space Camp any day of the week. Ever since their album debut, She Like Electric, Smoosh’s star has continued to rise. Now on Death Cab’s old label Barsuk, and produced by their mentor, Death Cab drummer Jason McGerr, Smoosh returns with Free to Stay.
More often than not, teens are given nearly the respect, credit, or confidence they deserve. Marketers aim at teens as if they were addle-minded lackwits in a state of infantilism. In this day and age we still see toys like Bratz which talk to tweens about boys and `bestest’ friends. Sure, there are some exceptions that do seem to be `challenged,’ but then I remember that I was a teenager once (long, long ago), so were my siblings, and so were my friends. Never once did we fall for that kind of pabulum. Luckily, there are some people out there who feel the same way. Take Joss Whedon, for instance, and his depictions of teenagers as a force to be reckoned with on Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, or Brian K. Vaughan and his team of Runaways, a teenage superhero team facing realistic dark times. Both of them present stories that appeal to teens and adults alike. Add to that list Smoosh, who, being teenagers themselves, are presenting their peers with a sophisticated alternative to the normal teen fare while its adult listeners are basking in regressive joy.
She Like Electric found Aysa singing about such youngster topics as having fun and joining a soccer team, but Free to Stay finds her a bit more introspective. One thing I noticed quickly was the use of the word `try’ in nearly every song. The pervasive use of that verb in particular seems to show that the Smoosh sisters are like every other teenager, a little unsure of themselves and trying to find their places in the world. The thought is a little strange considering that most of their listeners would posit that, with two albums under their belts and tours with some of the indie giants, they have already found their place in the world. But at a combined age of twenty-six, the opportunities are nearly limitless. Think about it; they could go to school and find themselves neuroscientists, or, in six short years, they could be one super sick indie duo with a pedigree longer than most other established acts.
While Chloe pounds the skins and inserts drum fills not only better than anyone her age, but better than a lot of people twice her age, Aysa begins to mature before our very ears with thoughts like, “I don’t know why I do these things” and “I was wrong, no, I’m never right.” She also gives us a spin on John Lennon’s indictment of Paul McCartney as he sang it in “How Do You Sleep?” as she vocalizes, “How do you sleep at night, when you’re drowning in your own lies?” One of the standout tracks finding the gals on mature footing is the acoustic guitar backed “Waiting for Something.” The liner notes only credit the sisters as playing drums and keyboards, so we could possibly have an uncredited guest on our hands (McGerr, mayhap?). The song is a window for the possible future music of Smoosh, as the nearly anonymous teens grow into womanhood and explore new directions for their music.
Just as the term `rock and roll’ was a subversive description of sex, so too did a friend of mine use the term `smoosh,’ as in, `Did you hear about Frank and Kathy? I heard they smooshed.’ I’m pretty sure this wasn’t the context in which Chloe and Aysa were using the term, but you never know. Free to Stay lies somewhere in that realm of trying to deal with adult themes (not sex, mind you, but adolescence) while giggling girlishly about the whole damn thing. Their lyrics and musicianship may not quite yet be on a par with the majority of bands for which they are opening, but they’re a hell of a lot better than most of the MTV bands out there. If just one teenager stops listening to Good Charlotte, Hilary Duff or High School Musical and starts listening to Smoosh, it will all have been worth it.