In Name Alone: On the Surprisingly Stellar Maturation of Bands With Youthful Monikers

01/12/2012 3:41 PM |


Saddling your band with a youthful sounding name might seem like a good idea when you’re actually youthful, but how does it feel to be a member of Teenage Fanclub when you have a teenager of your own? As indie rock goes gray, we recognize a few artists who’ve managed to hold onto the energy and vitality their names hinted at all those years ago.

Imperial Teen
Perhaps it’s the hobbyist spirit that makes a career band. Considering Imperial Teen’s latest release, Feel the Sound (out January 31 on Merge) is only their fifth since 1996, it’s safe to say the San Francisco four-piece knows when to let life get in the way of rock stardom. (And with, among them, members of Faith No More, the Dicks and the Wrecks, imagine the stories they tell their children!) Imperial Teen hasn’t strayed far from the ageless power-pop of On and Seasick, colored by Roddy Bottum’s cheeky yet endearing songwriting and sustained synth grooves. If only they got together more often.
Key Late-Period Track:Impossibly prolific since 1977, Childish creates and regularly refurbishes a catalog of three-chord punk, blues and folk songs with nods as disparate as the Sex Pistols (Pop Rivets), early Beatles (the Milkshakes) and WWI infantrymen (the Buff Medways). His current group, the Musicians of the British Empire, offer a similarly nostalgic spin, with Childish’s singular vision leading the charge. Occasionally the artist leaves his native Chatham for gallery shows. His most recent exhibition of paintings, on view at the Lehmann Maupin Gallery through January 21, has received rave reviews.
Key Late-Period Track: “Again and Again” (Thatcher’s Children, 2008)

Sonic Youth
While Kim and Thurston’s 2011 separation has put the long-running experimental band on hiatus, there’s no denying that Sonic Youth’s eminence is preserved in amber—or whatever the next amber may be. After all, they’re the band that introduced you (and maybe your parents) to both Glenn Branca and Be Your Own Pet. Straddling noise, free jazz, minimalism and pop, Sonic Youth has continued to innovate through their 16th studio record, 2009’s The Eternal, and a crackling, could-be last call at the Williamsburg Waterfront this past summer. In the meantime its members keep busy with solo projects, gallery shows, film scores, a poetry journal and a fashion line, making Sonic Youth as much a brand as a band.
Key Late-Period Track: “Pink Steam” (Rather Ripped, 2006)

Teenage Fanclub
Like Merge label-mates Imperial Teen, Teenage Fanclub have been taking their sweet time in recent years, releasing the pastoral Shadows in 2010 with a shrug, and supporting Belle & Sebastian — which likely introduced the Scottish indie-pop quartet to a new generation of sweater-tuggers. To the delight of us old guard, the Fanclub’s ’91 chestnut “The Concept” played a pivotal role in Young Adult as that mix-tape song Mavis (Charlize Theron) couldn’t get past. We’ve all been there.
Key Late-Period Track: “Baby Lee” (Shadows, 2010)

Young Fresh Fellows
Led by the colorful personality Scott McCaughey, the Young Fresh Fellows have been casually releasing records since 1981, along with its spinoff, the Minus Five—even splitting album sides, to the confusion and delight of pop fans. Whether covering the Kinks, slagging on Amy Grant, or backing Robyn Hitchcock, McCaughey and his men are something of a Seattle rock house band. Their most recent release, 2009’s I Think It Is, bears the chop that attracts members of the Long Winters and Death Cab for Cutie to their shows. And with several choice anecdotes in the recent grunge oral history Everybody Loves Our Town, McCaughey shows he still has a sense of humor about it all.
Key Late-Period Track: “Never Turning Back Again” (I Think This Is, 2009)

And the Next Generation: Will they fair as well?
The Babies: No tantrums from this Vivian Girls side project, only spirited pop-punk.
Cold War Kids: These guys might not remember the Berlin Wall coming down, but they know their way around a catchy chorus.
The Teenagers: Begun on a lark, this French synth-pop band is clever and juvenile.
Young the Giant: This Cali band recorded their first record while two of its members were still in high school.