In the lo-fi circuit, artists will occasionally try to cover up their dearth of ideas by drowning them out. Sometimes they get away with it. With her new band, Kristina “Teeny” Lieberson has taken a different approach: stretch out what you have to give the impression of purposefulness.
Lieberson first made a name for herself as the keyboardist for Here We Go Magic, and she recently parted ways with the group to form TEEN. I’ll get this out of the way now and state on record that I’ve never cared for Here We Go Magic — particularly after seeing them at Bonnaroo this year — but TEEN’s style really is too distinct to elicit a comparison to its parent band. Their primary reference for songwriting is the DIY charter, but they have substituted a psychedelic vibe for the vivacity that made those homemade projects so impossible to overlook.
From a distance, TEEN’s passion for DIY, punk-styled vocals, deliberate pacing and reverb-heavy production seems like a fairly viable configuration. Zoom in, and it becomes clear that TEEN rely too heavily on atmosphere and the virtues of low fidelity. You’d think that an album that paces itself, one that glides rather than gallops, would take a firm stance on something like rhythm, melody or structure. In Limbo achieves mediocrity in all three areas, with formless compositions that miss their opportunities to actually say something. There are too many sluggish and abrasive moments for it to become the intoxicating psychidelia that it clearly wants to be. The shrill synthesizers on “Better” may prove too much for anyone with sensitive ears, while songs like “Useless” and “Why Why Why” are awash with echoes and drone, getting lost in themselves without developing a personality.
About half of the tracks on In Limbo are twice as long as they should be. It’s nearly an hour long, and drags songs based on a single viable musical idea out to five or six minutes. “Fire” cranks up the tremolo and wrings every last drop of utility out of it, which it finishes doing before it’s even half over. The only song that seems fully fleshed out is “Huh.” It soars above its cohorts, fully justifying its runtime with reposed, harmonious keyboards and an ardent performance by Lieberson. Other highlights include the title track, and “Charlie,” which is pretty much the exact opposite of a love note. “Your touch is like a disease,” sings Lieberman, adding sobriety and a wry kind of humanity to the proceedings.
On “Electric,” Lieberson begins by observing that “everyone is disposable.” It’s a peculiarly applicable statement for In Limbo. The drumming is so unsophisticated that it would make Meg White blush, the supplementary keyboards distract when Lieberson is actually displaying some flair, and the music is redundant enough to test the patience of any revivalist devotee. If the band can rein in their indulgences, there’s hope for them yet. For now however, TEEN is another in a long line of mildly interesting but ponderous offshoots from already established bands.