Earth Is A Black Hole wasn’t so much a turning point for Teenage Wrist, as a tectonic shift that altered their course immeasurably for the better. It was easily one of the more tragic casualties of the vortex that sucked in any and all pandemic-era music; had it been given time to sit and percolate among the wider world, it could’ve been a phenomenon. And that’s because it did everything right when it comes to retooling a sound for the poppier—the core ideals remained the same, and weren’t overshadowed or swallowed up by the new. In Teenage Wrist’s case, they’d morphed a fairly standard grunge / shoegaze entry point into something far neater, where the cues from emo and even pop-punk weren’t too alien to sit alongside something still quintessentially ‘90s-shaped.
So to fast forward to now, with the release of Still Love, the question appears to be ‘what’s next?’ You could make the argue that a simple replication of Earth Is A Black Hole would be enough; it’s still sounds great, and is easily worthy of being the bedrock for Teenage Wrist from now on. But clearly the picture is bigger than that, and Teenage Wrist want to make that known definitively. Still Love is not Earth Is A Black Hole Pt. 2, but you could argue that similar cues and twists offered to it have informed this follow-up too. They’ve just been reshaped and realigned into something new and different, while still being very Teenage Wrist. And very good, too. Like, some of the best alt-rock you’ll hear this year, easily.
It boils down to Teenage Wrist knowing exactly what their greatest strengths are, and not putting them all into play at once. If Earth Is A Black Hole was a bit shinier and sharper without tilting so far that it was negatively affected, Still Love feels weightier as it rotates grunge back to the fore. There’s still a pop sensibility that’s very well preserved, but it’s in the form of a band like Silverchair in terms of how each piece is intermingled. And the thing is, that only reveals itself more and more as the album goes on. Sunshine and Dark Sky are a solid opening duo, to be sure, but when the title track swings around in rich, dramatic and ultimately heavy form, that’s the proper jumping-off point.
There’s variety here too, an attribute sometimes oxymoronic to grunge that once again showcases Teenage Wrist’s deftness in composition. Maybe ‘variety’ is a tad too strong on its face—the saxophone winding through the back end of Sprawled is the closest they come to something entirely different—but the differences in feel across the board are entirely palpable. Just take Something Good and Diorama, two primarily acoustic tracks in fairly close proximity to each other, that also show off how comfortably the genre spectrum is explored, to where the bold, jangling brightness of the former is a complete mirror to how shuffling and understated the latter is. It definitely translates better through the album itself than descriptions; that can seem to sell short how expertly Teenage Wrist have gone about their style here.
Not to mention how grand it all sounds, without fully blowing itself up into something unrecognisable. There’s a scale within the production that’s especially powerful, where the guitars are fully revved up for the rhythm section—especially the drums—to serve as a clearer foil. That’s not to denigrate any part of this though, not when there’s such a real feel to it that’s obviously casting back to a whole host of ‘90s grunge and alt-rock names. The cues are present here and there, but this is a Teenage Wrist production first and foremost, and it feels like it. It’s why, for an album with an inordinate number of guest performers across multiple styles, their fingerprints aren’t laid on too thickly. The spotlight is heavily on the band themselves, particularly vocalist Marshall Gallagher with a vocal and writing style suitably in line with the disenfranchised, open figures of alt-rock past.
And just like them, Teenage Wrist execute their work with such vigour and aplomb, to where imagining this sticking around for decades to come is far from a tall order. When the only real bugbear is the studio chatter on the closer Ketamine lasts a bit too long, you’ve got a band delivering their second consecutive humdinger as though it were nothing. The heights are frequently interstellar, and really only go even higher upon repeat listens where the melodic punch of it all can sink in properly. All of that from an album totally eschewing gimmicks or any kind of overbearing tactics, in favour of an ever-reliable palette of solid-gold rock music. If Teenage Wrist carry on like this, they could be generational greats before anyone even realises.
For fans of: Silverchair, Foo Fighters, Citizen
‘Still Love’ by Teenage Wrist is released on 4th August on Epitaph Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall