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TEEN’s Faux-R&B Ploy ‘The Way and Color’ Elevates Discomfort to a Fine Art

SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: April 22, 2014
Label: Carpark

Fronted by former Here We Go Magic keyboardist Teeny Lieberson (joined by sisters Lizzy and Katherine), Brooklyn’s TEEN has made intriguing moves from the start. In Limbo, their likable 2012 debut, suggested a garage-pop band finding its bearings, relying on synths instead of guitars, while the tantalizing follow-up EP Carolina hinted at weirder ideas to come. On The Way and Color, the quartet abruptly veers toward what initially seems like a shinier, more mainstream sound, showcasing sultry songs and firm grooves suitable for your favorite R&B diva.

That is, until you pay closer attention. Glitzy electronica, creamy melodies and pretty voices aside, The Way and Color is profoundly uneasy listening, drenched in tension and anger unrelieved by catharsis. Lieberson’s detached vocals convey deep distress without breaking a sweat, projecting an eerie calm verging on catatonic. In the leadoff track, “Rose 4 U,” she chants impassively, repeating, “Look here’s a rose for you,” as if approaching ecstatic release, only to suffer betrayal as her unfaithful lover moves “from station to station.”

Then she trudges from one tortured vignette to another, reflecting languidly on “lust and greed gone sour” (“Not for Long”), decrying loveless sex to an oddly peppy beat (“More Than I Ask For”) and, most memorably, pondering a terminated pregnancy in the hushed, heartrending “Sticky,” murmuring, “Yes, they were blue eyes/ And I will never know them now,” without an iota of self-indulgent theatrics.

It’s tricky, portraying epic angst through understatement, and inspiration flags occasionally on extended instrumental passages intended to stitch the album into a seamless whole. But lapses are rare. Comfort finally arrives on the closing song, “All the Same,” a sweet soul ballad in the spirit of The Classic, Joan as Police Woman’s more uplifting recent effort. The Way and Color is a gem in its own devastating way, but don’t be surprised if TEEN occupy a completely different space next time.