Teenage Prayers

  • Teenage Prayers
  • Ten Songs (True Love Through Better Music) 2005 
  • Everyone Knows You're the Best (True Love Through Better Music) 2008 

This Brooklyn-based sextet finishes its debut album with a cover of Solomon Burke’s “Goodbye Baby” produced by the soul legend himself. While having Burke’s stamp of approval is nice (he flew them to L.A. to for the recording), this group didn’t need it to confirm what one listen through Ten Songs reveals: they’re one of the most soulful indie rock outfits to come out of New York in years. Frontman Tim Adams’ vocals are a fascinating cross between a traditional R&B belter and Stephen Malkmus on late-era Pavement albums. At one moment he’s stretching out on emotionally charged ballads (“Brown Bottle,” “Oh”), the next he’s yelling about his own faults at the top of his lungs (“Center of the World”). And the rest of the band matches him, bridging the gap from grooves that could be Booker T-approved to hypnotic Velvet Underground-like rock within the space of a five minute song (“Acetylene Summer”). Adams also has a keen eye for the not-so-obvious with his lyrics, as in the stanza “She’s dirty from New Jersey / She’s a debutante straight from the pages / Of a Popular Mechanic” (“Brown Bottle”). It’s also refreshing to hear such lyrics delivered without any hint of irony: Adams is passionate and sympathetic to the characters that inhabit his songs. This is a promising debut for Teenage Prayers, and one can only hope they continue to search for that secret that makes most soul music timeless.

Everyone Thinks You’re the Best toughens up their soulful sound with producer Steve Wynn and mixer Paul Kolderie (Buffalo Tom, Radiohead). The production upgrade is evident from the album’s opening track, “I Like It,” as each instrument swaggers into the mix individually before singer Tim Adams spits out his most venomous lyrics yet (“I like it / but I don’t like you”). That go-for-broke attitude and crisp sound permeate the disc’s rollicking first half, on tracks like “I’ll Never Let You Go” and “Good Voodoo.” “No Sex” is the Prayers’ best combination of catchy rock and soul grooves yet, as barrelhouse electric piano, boogie-woogie piano and Stax-like horns back a high chorus of the group yelling “No sex, no fun, no beautiful babies.” The second half slows down the pace a bit, with “1,2 3,” which would fit snugly on any late ’60s pop album (think The Monkees circa Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd) and guitarist Terrence Adams’ Big Star-like lament on “Dreams of the South.” The group also continues its exploration of gospel music with a stellar cover of the Clark Sisters’ “Is My Living in Vain.” The only misstep is the reggae-inflected “Heiroglyph,” which goes off the rails with a mid-section that could have been imported from a completely different song. Overall, Everyone Thinks You’re the Best fulfills and exceeds the promise of the band’s fine debut.

[Steve Reynolds]