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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Technicolor Teeth's Rootless Indie Rock

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It's hard to believe that Teenage Pagans, the 12-song debut album from Appleton-based Technicolor Teeth, was made by a collection of musicians a few years out of high school. Teenage Pagans sounds confident and cohesive, as if the players had been working with each other for many years. Album opener “Magick Sunlamp” gallops out of the gate, putting on display the powerful mix of tunefulness and noise that carries on throughout the record. Much of Teenage Pagans is played loud, but such volume never undercuts the fact that the band is performing catchy, well-written pop songs. It's the type of first record that leaves you wanting a quick sophomore follow-up.

Perhaps it's because of their hometown—bassist Matt Stranger explains that, in Appleton, “We live in our own little world and we like it that way”—but it's hard to pin down a distinct sound or scene that Technicolor Teeth pledges its allegiance to. You can hear a variety of influences in such tracks as “Chrystalline,” “White Mother” and “Any Kind of High” (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Guided by Voices and My Bloody Valentine, to name a few), yet the album, as a whole, never sounds dated or derivative. There is a clear love of '90s-era indie rock, but one also hears hints of the '60s-era psychedelic scene and the classic rock of the 1970s. These young guys know their music history. Yet, more importantly, the group is committed to exploring their place within this broader narrative of pop and rock 'n' roll.

“I guess what I'm more interested in now is how Technicolor Teeth fits into the much broader continuum of rock music,” Stranger explains. “The same continuum that Sonic Youth is a part of, but so is Iron Butterfly and Steely Dan.”

Based on such an open-minded perspective, the eclectic music scene of Milwaukee should prove welcoming to Technicolor Teeth. The band has already played a number of shows in the city, often due to a lack of opportunities in Appleton, where shows, according to Stranger, “usually involve crusty thrash bands.” So the band has taken to making frequent trips to the city.

“We're kind of like Milwaukee's stepbrothers or something,” Stranger notes, “or maybe cousins.”

On the one hand, the band seems to exist in relative isolation in Appleton. But they are in no hurry to find a new home in a more cosmopolitan location like Milwaukee. Upon first glance, the lack of a true musical home might appear troubling for a fledgling band. Yet one gets the sense that such a rootless existence will serve the group well. Free from expectations and scene politics, there is little doubt that Technicolor Teeth will further experiment with their approach to songwriting.

Teenage Pagans
is now available on cassette from Let's Pretend Records (Bloomington, Ind.), and the band is currently working with London-based Stroll On Records to get their music out in Europe. With such worldly ambitions, it is clear that the band wants to reach as many listeners as possible. We want to show “how recordings can create an atmosphere and transport you to another world,” Stranger concludes. “I'm interested in how we can do that with pop music and rock 'n' roll.”

With Teenage Pagans, Technicolor Teeth is off to a great start.

Technicolor Teeth plays Quarters Rock & Roll Palace on Tuesday, May 22, with Dude Magnets and Buster Douglas.
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