Revisited: Teen Angst

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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Underrated Albums of 2020, Vol. 3: MIKE – weight of the world

The Bronx-bred lyricist presents us with an extremely cerebral album dealing with depression, grief and the emotional aftermath of losing his mother.

Carrying the weight of the world on one’s shoulders can be a crushing burden, but since his teenage years, MIKE has been doing just that. Born Michael Jordan Bonema, the 22-year-old lyricist is a pioneer in the underground lo-fi hip hop scene, all the while delivering some of its most emotionally resonant, introspective and prolific works to date.

With weight of the world, MIKE delivers yet another extremely personal, transparent and cerebral experience that continues this trend. As always, the Bronx-born MC wears his heart on his sleeve, exploring his anxieties, depression and the emotional toll that the loss of his mother has taken on him.

It’s this emotional weight that MIKE carries with him that he masterfully conveys through his lyrics, crafting immensely impressive verses that are as intriguingly poetic and abstract as they are emotionally impactful. In just a few words, he’s able to effectively encapsulate some of his most visceral feelings and agonizing memories in ways so visual that it plays like a movie scene for the listener. This is exemplified on “222,” as MIKE rifles through his dealings with substance abuse and depression, his relationship with his brother and the moment that his mother died, “Walked her out the Earth, just me, a couple nurses.”

This lyrical prowess is perfectly complemented by the work that MIKE does behind the boards, handling the majority of the album’s production under his producer pseudonym, dj blackpower. In doing so, he creates a soundscape that’s as scattered and dense as the thoughts he’s put to paper in his verses. The murky lo-fi instrumentals, mostly comprised of chopped-up soul samples and irregular drum patterns, are deliberately messy enough to match the emotion within his lyrics while still creating a comfortable enough pocket for MIKE to sound his best in.

And while this isn’t his best project per se, as a writer and rapper, he is absolutely at his best. His writing is sharp, and his delivery is more confident than ever, even when he’s teetering on sounding monotone. From the exchanging verses with Earl Sweatshirt on the album’s closer “allstar,” to his personal reflections on songs like “no, no” and “trail of tears,” MIKE showcases that within his sadness and pain, his growth has been the light at the end of the tunnel.

On his 2019 magnum opus tears of joy (released shortly after his mother’s passing), we heard verses that played like the reflective diary entries of an emotionally distressed, grieving son. weight of the world sees that son, still sorrowful and grieving, finding solace in his music and further confidence in his abilities. It’s as hopeful as it is harrowing, a true testament to MIKE’s growth as a lyricist and producer, and one of the best and most unjustly overlooked albums of last year.



Live Art & Synthwave was perfect for socially awkward lo-fi and cookie fans

The Diving Bell Social Club hosted a night of pressure-free retro merriment

On Nov. 15, I got a free pass to Live Art & Synthwave in exchange for guarding the Nintendo. The mini classic Nintendo Entertainment System was set up in a nook with a projector, couches and all the old games on the drive. I had to make sure no one got into any fights or hogged the controllers.

Thankfully, the crowd didn’t need too much moderation. It was a wholesome group, everyone taking their turns to play and otherwise happy to sit down.

With everyone so well behaved, I could ignore my responsibilities for most of the evening. I proceeded to wander, admire the art, bask in an electronic music bath and eat cookies.

“I’m not a snitch.” — Bonnie Jean

The official line is that the event was produced and organized by Artwave MTL, a new “volunteer-run Montreal project aiming to get local musicians, artists and friends together through live performance events.”

The truth is that this whole affair was dictator-ed into being by an event planner and jam night aficionado who goes by the name Bonnie Jean.

“I actually had friends who tried to throw events and they sucked at it and they would never take my advice and it bothered me so I’m like f*ck you imma do it my way,” said Bonnie Jean in half the time it took you to read it.

“It’s going swimmingly.” — Mr. Mulgrave

There was a volunteer tasked with taking polaroids in exchange for Packman stickers that people purchased at the cookie and tortilla chips table. He introduced himself only as Mr. Mulgrave, though you can easily track his real identity down on the event page.

Other volunteers took pictures, filmed, checked the door and manned the coat check and ticket counter. It was a labour of love.

Maya Brobove, the official photographer, gave me one of the few unironic statements of the night. “I think it’s really interesting to see live painting happening in a space where live music is happening because it’s not an art form that we see the process of,” she said. “So it’s really nice to see different art forms being celebrated.”

DJs Tryptish and ELIAS kept the room cozy with warm lo-fi (low fidelity, if you didn’t know… I didn’t) lounge music throughout the evening.

This was intercut with moody and exciting synthwave acts by Bashu, NAHJI and M.M. Crone, all big deals and worth a trip across town.

While the three bands played, three artists painted away, though the symmetry was accidental. One of the acts had to cancel at the last minute.

Bonnie Jean took it in stride. “Adapt and overcome, I always say.”

The three artists chose acrylic as their medium, which doesn’t have to mean anything. Although, if I had to make something up, acrylic’s fast drying and permanency of colour, mixed with its crisp edge and flexibility could seem appropriate for an evening obsessed with an 80s aesthetic.

“I like to paint animals.” — Elizabeth Sorokina

Elizabeth Sorokina, a fashion designer, was painting a rhinoceros and her calf.

I was staring mesmerized at it, picking cookie dough from my teeth, when suddenly she stuck packing tape over the mother rhino. She explained to me that it created an effect when you took it off later and pointed to her other paintings hanging on the wall. I saw it. I thought it imbued them with a strange brightness.

“National Geographic does amazing images of these animals, of a really peaceful moment in the wild,” Sorokina said. “It’s always unpredictable, so it’s always a really rare moment.”

“I’m probably just going to smoke some weed and come back.” — Andres Granados

Yoga teacher and musician Andres Granados’s painting embraced the night’s theme. With his dreamy accent, he described it as a Roman statue in a synth-futuristic-neon-80s style. “I’m doing a paperweight-themed painting,” he said.

Andres’ other work was also quite funky, like the floating multicoloured elephant head and the surreal black and white ink giraffe/goat/fish.

“I seem to have a Montreal theme going on.” — Chris Roy

Beside finished pieces featuring construction cones and the Couche-Tard owl, Chris Roy was painting what I initially thought was a block of swiss cheese covered in red arrows. “Straight lines, no blending of colours, just very clean-cut,” is how he described his work with satisfaction. When I arrived he was adding clean black letters and numbers that referred to significant elements of his life growing up.

I dared to ask about the swiss cheese.

“Do you remember the old STM bus transfer?” was his answer.

Ohhhhh. The holes…That was way better than cheese, I thought.

“We take debit or credit.” — Elena Blanco Moleón 

The star of the evening, in my opinion, was Elena Blanco Moleón. The chocolate chip cookies she baked were both rich and sickening. I had four, which was no mean feat.

“They’re all coming back and saying, ‘Oh my god they’re awesome’,” Moleón said confidently. “So I’m really hopeful that the word will spread.”

While art and music were an excellent pretext to leave home, nostalgia, comfort and acceptance were the real themes of the evening. You could draw on the art wall, dance awkwardly to the synthwave, stuff your face or simply sit alone in a corner, absorbed by the rad sounds. It was an event/show/expo/bake sale that gave you permission to miss being a kid for a few hours and I’m looking forward to the next one (looks like it’ll be in early February).



Photos by Maya Brobove


Quickspins + Retroview

Little Chords – Afterlife (Lefse Records; 2012)

When B.C.-based singer-songwriter Jamison is not producing records under his other monikers, Teen Daze and Two Bicycles, he is churning out music as Little Chords, an ‘80s drum-based, lo-fi, indie pop project from Vancouver. His new record Afterlife was released for download on March 20 on Bandcamp.
Chiming guitars, bathed in reverb and delay effects, synths, drum machines and quiet, almost haunting vocals lead the listener through the journey of the record.
It’s a welcome excursion, as some of the songs, such as “Firsts,” seem as if they could come right off the soundtrack of an eighties flick—think The Karate Kid (no, not the one with Jaden Smith). Others, such as “Afterlife,” are quieter introspectives, giving the album balance and contrast.
The record runs just over 36 minutes long and treats listeners to a scenic, pop-psych drive. While it won’t bring back glam rock bands on cassettes, inline skates or Atari games, it will surprise listeners looking for a little something nostalgic.

Trial track: “Afterlife”

Rating: 8.5/10

– A.J. Cordeiro

Mark Stewart – The Politics of Envy (Future Noise Music; 2012)

Mark Stewart has burst back on the scene after a four-year break, with his raw and dangerously sexy album The Politics of Envy. I have a feeling Stewart would spit in my face if he knew what I’m about to say, but here it goes: This album is like TV on the Radio and Nine Inch Nails bonding at a dubstep-fuelled afterparty. Trust me, it’s a good thing. Stewart keeps alive the experimental, industrial, hip-hop sound that he’s been celebrated for since his first band, The Pop Group, split in the early ‘80s. The tunes are moody and rife with anti-“corporate cocksucker” messages and the album features a handful of punk’s and post-punk’s most respected pioneers such as Keith Levene of early Clash fame, Slits bassist Tessa Pollitt and The Raincoats’ Gina Birch. Birch’s deep, robotic voice makes “Stereotype” one of the most haunting pop songs I’ve heard this year.

Trial track: “Want”

Rating: 9.0/10

– Lindsay Briscoe

Tanlines – Mixed Emotions (True Panther Sounds; 2012)

What’s a better way to end the academic year than with something as overtly non-academic as Tanlines?
After years of teasing with endless singles and EPs, Brooklyn duo Jesse Cohen and Eric Emm have finally released their full-length debut album Mixed Emotions. Best described as electro-pop with a tropical flavour, this album is like a piña colada in a test tube: fun and refreshing, but completely synthetic.
At times influenced by Paul Simon’s Graceland, the production has a strong emphasis on dance floor beats and catchy pop melodies, with a heavy reliance on synthesizers and an afropop veneer. Emm’s muffled baritone vocals both accentuate and compliment the artificiality of the soundscape constructed entirely of relentlessly upbeat rhythms and repetitive drum patterns.
Like a coconut-wielding caricature imprisoned in a souvenir shop snowglobe, Mixed Emotions may ultimately be the desperate plea of a man trapped in a kitschy tropical dystopia.

Trial track: “Real Life”

Rating: 7.0/10

– Paul Traunero

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Axis: Bold As Love (Track Records; 1967)

Late legendary musician Jimi Hendrix has never failed to impress with any of his releases. Following the success of his debut album Are You Experienced?, Hendrix was keen on expanding his musical horizons. Axis: Bold as Love, recorded in 1967, combines elements of rock, blues, psychedelic and jazz, creating a beautiful hodgepodge of sound.
Out of the three albums Hendrix recorded, Axis is often the most underrated, largely due to the fact that it was released in between his two most commercially successful albums. With Axis, the late rock ‘n’ roll icon displayed remarkable growth as a tunesmith, asserting his position as a multifaceted and highly-skilled musician.
The album features one of Hendrix’s finest performances on the guitar, as well as his most emotional. “Little Wing,” a two-minute odyssey through sound, showcases his versatility and superior songwriting skills, forging a sound that no other artist could replicate.
All of Hendrix’s albums are definite must-haves for any music enthusiast, but Axis stands out as his most experimental and original record.

Trial track: “Little Wing”

– Gabriel Fernandez

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