Do you remember the rap troupe Pink Dollaz? Probably not. I first came across them in 2010 when a DJ friend of mine showed me their song “Never Hungry.” I was enamored. I soon tracked down the six teenage girls and wrote a feature story on them for hearty magazine. The Inglewood-based California rappers were barely legal, very perceptive, hyper-sexual and totally feminist, whether that feminism was conscious or not. I remember one of the girls telling me they wrote their first two songs at a sleepover party. They sat up all night, scribbling down rhymes back and forth, and the next day went and recorded the track.
In The Punk Singer, last year’s documentary about feminist icon Kathleen Hanna, the Le Tigre and Bikini Kill frontwoman, talked about the importance of a girl’s bedroom, especially when she was making her first solo album Julie Ruin in the late ’90s. “I needed to get used to the sound of my own voice, and I think that’s what makes a girl’s bedroom special,” Hanna told The Hairpin. “You can make whatever you want when you’re alone in your room.”
The bedroom is the place where we feel the most at home, where creativity and self-expression can flourish without criticism. Where our most important thoughts happen. Sometimes we let friends into our bedrooms. Sometimes sex happens there. Sometimes we destroy ourselves in that space. Sometimes it’s just a nest. (Tumblr is like a teenage girl’s bedroom exploded onto the internet, and that’s what I love about it — when I was a kid, I ripped out photos from rock magazines and pasted them all over my bedroom walls, mapping out the person I wanted to be through my idols.)
There’s something about the second album from the Brooklyn-based band Teen that feels like it was created in a girl’s bedroom, because, you know what? It probably was. I don’t mean to say that The Way and Color is bedroom music in that dreamy shoegaze way that most people think of the genre, but that The Way and Color was most likely spawned in leader Teeny Lieberson’s head, while she was in her cramped little Brooklyn bedroom. Then she teamed up with three of her like-minded girlfriends (two of them are actually her sisters) to execute the idea into a psychedelic r&b record.
If we are talking strictly sonics, The Way and Color is a beautiful album. It’s diverse, powerful and completely unique, while still paying homage to the classic techniques of the late-’90s r&b girls Lieberson and I grew up listening to. (You know, after they stopped playing Smashing Pumpkins and Hole on MTV.) Teeny’s voice is like a maternal whisper, wise, strong and calming, cutting across the danceable formation of synths (her sister Lizzie Lieberson), bass (Boshra AlSaadi) and drums (another sister, Katherine Lieberson). “Rose 4 U” is uplifting and plays out like a secret chant, while “More Than I Ask For” challenges structure like a chopped-and-screwed version of a pop song, with Teeny rap-whispering her way through the verses and background harmonies. “Breathe Low & Deep” wouldn’t work without AlSaadi’s creamy, jazz-infused bass line, and “Tied Up Tied Down” makes me want to dance by myself, singing through my hairbrush like I’m 12 again.
However, the most compelling aspect of The Way and Color is the lyrics. On the surface, it may seem mundane, but what Teen are actually talking about is all part of the check-the-box-for-age-25-to-30-female struggle in 2014: misogyny, feminist backlash, pop culture and reproduction.
“It’s so not personal/I’ve been struggling with the same problems for years,” sings Lieberson in “Not For Long,” the second song. “All it takes is someone younger…” The album’s first single is full swag, featuring hummed harmonies backing up Lieberson’s breathy vocals. That song is like a warning: “Go for it, girl, but you are just a face unless you control your own career.” Which is what I like about Teen: they play pop but they’re doing it within the context of the subgenre of indie, so they have a lot of control.
In “Sticky,” Lieberson considers motherhood. (“Is it alright/That I barely even lasted/through the eve of one night/Am I passing up the chance/ to be a mother at a young age?”) When was the last time someone actually talked about motherhood in a bad-ass rock record? Live Through This? Probably.
The Way and Color is a perceptive, bright piece of cultural critique. It’s a great pop album swimming around in the indie pool. In a world of cheesecake pop tarts and faux-indie “stars,” we need this. Teen prove that you don’t need to be screaming, kicking and punching to be completely bad-ass.