Revisited: Teen Angst

Spirit of the Beehive playing at a house show in 2016. NATHANIEL SALFI

A look-back at my emo teen music and letting the feels rush in

We all go through phases. Some are more embarrassing than others, but they all play an equal part in shaping who we are now. To think of these phases musically, as the curation of our own tastes over the years, can be especially defining.

Call it an accidental reminiscence. I was browsing through Spotify last month and came upon a playlist called “Alternative 80’s.” “Waiting Room,” by Fugazi, was playing. Suddenly, after years of repression, I was taken back in time to age 16, when music filled every nook and cranny of my life.

I’d blocked it out for a long time. I moved into a long phase of passivity, listening to whatever random music I happened to stumble onto, including the radio, which in my angst phase was a sin worse than murder.

Then that damn Fugazi song was playing, and it all came back.

Shortly after freshman year started, I found myself involved with something called, “the scene.” Being punk in (near) Washington, D.C. then wasn’t so much about being part of a single genre like when it first started. That was a time which gave way to punk legends like Fugazi, then later, Dave Grohl, and by 2015 it was more of an established subculture of DIY. It was where diverse genres including punk, bedroom pop, lo-fi, alternative rock, hardcore (a subculture of its own), emo, math rock, and many others first came about, and later called home. 

It was hard to remember everything at first. All my favorites who were active during (2015-2017) either broke up or went AWOL in 2019. As soon as I dug deeper, though, every church basement, house show, and sweaty mosh pit came through crystal clear.

Pulling from memory, I could at least remember my very favorites: Forth Wanderers was one of them, who’s first EP Mahogany, 2014 album Tough Love (remember when Lorde tweeted it?!), and later EP Slop was playing for the majority of 2016 and 2017. Probably my favorite band of all time (RIP), Forth Wanderers was formed by three great musicians looking for a lead vocalist. Everything became whole when they came together. 

Remembering that led me to remember my other favorite sing-alongs, like Hop Along‘s 2015 release Painted Shut. If you’re suburban-rural bred like me and in need of some melancholy reminiscence, it will bring out everything heavy in you. Anyone into shows like Shameless and Twin Peaks, or any other general malaise should find this album well. Palehound always had a similar effect on me, led by Ellen Kempner, whose voice and lyrics carry the same strength and attitude as Hop Along’s Frances Quinlan.

Also on repeat was Philly-based band LVL UP. Hardcore fans will be disappointed that this was about as angsty as I got — if you want something edgier check out Cold Foamers, Stove, Downtown Boys, or Spirit of the Beehive, but that’s as deep as I’m taking it. LVL UP songs “Soft Power” or “Angel from Space,” both from their 2014 Hoodwink’d album, had these intense build-ups which did a good job transforming teen angst into pure elation.

Don’t limit LVL UP to your angsty moods though, they’re still the best medicine for any moment. “I Feel Extra-Natural” was my go-to for general sorrow, along with Clique‘s “Lil T,” another fave, with major “oof” lyrics like “I’ve been thinking a lot / all the fights we had / and what they were about / I can’t even remember.” More uplifting is the classic Clique banger “Get By,” sure to be a hit the next time you find yourself among a group of angsty teens or, more likely, angsty nostalgic adults. The real angst party soundtrack, however, would be (RIP) Warehouse‘s 2016 album Super low (can we agree that all the best music comes out of Atlanta?), whose timeless symphonies would also make great exercise companions.

We were all teens once. It may have been angst during the day, but at night it was all sorrow. Don’t lie. There was a lot of heartbreak, mostly from beginnings and endings that never actually played out in real life. We all had the music to help us get through it.

Some tracks made me fall in love, like Soccer Mommy‘s 2015 EPs songs for the recently sad and songs from my bedroom (parts one and two). I can still remember every line, and some still make my heart skip: “I just want you in my life / kissing circles on my thighs / like you do” and “you’ve been spending all your time / living on the backside of my eyes” (both from songs from my bedroom pt. 2). Montrealers can see her perform at the Corona Theatre on March 30.

If Soccer Mommy was my teddy bear back then, Alex G was water. A master guitarist, lyricist and composer, his songs bench heavyweight somewhere between lullaby, emo, and indie folk. Between the years 2011-2019, he was busier than anyone else I listened to, putting out over 24 releases, most of which were full-length albums. As one example out of many, “Thorns” from the 2015 Beach Music release tells a full story in one minute (first verse): “why would I lie / this thing / it haunts me like a shadow / never lets me go / he was cross / I knew how lost / I knew my way / oh, how I played him.”

Me with friends circa 2016.

As I discovered more, I saw every memory attached like a supernatural vision, unearthing old feelings of anger, sadness, grief, and happiness that hadn’t been touched in so long. It was like opening a time machine. Other icons from that time including Furnsss, The Obsessives, Snail Mail, Foozle, SitcomSwings, Tall Friend, Shya, Horse Jumper of Love, and Brittle Brian, all of whom bring back all the car trips, late night diners, Fort Reno sunsets, and concerts that made my teen life worth remembering. Each song is a roll of film, vine artistry, or finsta post, revealing all the beauty I had wanted to forget.

My teen phase wasn’t just an awesome time for music, it was an awesome time in general. It was a time of intense feelings and discovery. What I found was that even if you’re 22 and permanently jaded, your teenage self is still there. Just hit play on that old playlist and you’ll remember who they really were. 

Photos by Nathaniel Salfi of Bleary Eyed

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