Ah, to be a teenager. Watching bad teen shows 13 Reasons Why and Riverdale made me realise that teenagers are portrayed as highly dramatic and angsty and full of raging hormones. While this may be partially true, my teenage years was filled with an inherent wave of cynicism. I was truly bitter about the world, and turned to music for my answers. Perhaps this anecdote will help you understand why –
My daily routine was to listen to good, happy music on my way to school. I always believed that whatever music I listened to in the morning would define my mood for the rest of the day. This was because one day, while my mum drove me to choir camp, I listened to Sufjan Stevens on the ride to school. For the whole day, I was quiet and moody, and I blamed this on Sufjan Stevens’ hush tones from ‘Illinoise’. Damn you, Sufjan! You made me a real recluse with your songs on murderers and bible studies. It was not till years later did I realise I was sad that day because it was the car ride where my mum told me she was getting a divorce from my dad. I remembered meekly smiling at the news and most definitely listening to Sufjan Stevens more than her talking.
But yes, during this period, I was utterly obsessed with music. Here are five albums that defined my teenage years:
5/ Robyn – Body Talk (2009-10; Age: 18-19)
Can you ever truly go wrong with Robyn? She turns her angst and sadness into a strength, powering through her longing with a dancey, pop beat. It’s unbearably sad, but there’s a certain hopefulness in her songs as well. For me, I live off songs on intense longing. I was entering a long-distance relationship which was a lot tougher than expected. This was followed by getting my heart irretrievably broken, and well, Robyn was there for me throughout any painful period. I saw her live in Melbourne at the now-defunct Parklife in 2013, I sang along very loudly to every single song she belted on stage. A friend turned to me and said, “Wow, you really like her eh?” (*Bonus: this is still priceless)
4/ Broken Social Scene – Broken Social Scene (2005; Age: 14 though 16 when I first heard this album)
There’s a certain romance in Broken Social Scene’s self-titled album (‘I wanna be with you / all the time’ is my favourite line off ‘Swimmers’) that offshoots from its teenage past with songs like Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl (obviously). The album possesses rather dreamy vocals but backed by pulsating drum beats and sweeping guitars. I was facing stress from my studies and Broken Social Scene provided a certain refuge from this. I saw them live when I was about 16 and they made some comment about Singapore charging them for a carton of cigarettes. It was kinda bizarre, I don’t think I had even tried smoking a cigarette (yet). I was younger than their core demographic, but I felt so alive when they sang ‘7/4 (Shoreline)’ and I only had one word to myself “WOW”.
3/ Franz Ferdinand – You Could Have It So Much Better (2005; Age 14)
Ah, four sweaty boys in guitars tell me everything about my life, correct? Franz Ferdinand’s sophomore album was the album that catapulted my love affair with music (and also embarrassingly, slash fan fiction). My musical taste spiralled from the web spun by these Glaswegian lads – from their influences (Orange Juice, Pulp) to their opening acts (The Rakes, Patrick Wolf) to their contemporaries (The Libertines, The Strokes). Their songs were insanely catchy, with seemingly nonsensical lyrics. It’s terrific that they didn’t seem to take themselves too seriously (I could be wrong?). I saw them at the National Stadium when I was 14 and Alex Kapranos came to the crowd dragging his hand across the front row. I was there, grinning and screaming, and I remembered not wanting to let go of his finger. I was giddy with excitement. The band later invited the entire crowd back to their hotel to hang out to piss off the hotel manager – can you imagine? I got all their autographs that night, and remembered a crowded lobby, someone handing out streetside roasted chestnuts, and thinking – You’re lucky lucky, you’re so lucky.
2/ Belle & Sebastian – The Life Pursuit (2006; Age 15)
Undeniably, Belle & Sebastian’s greatest work was before The Life Pursuit (see: The Boy With The Arab Strap), but this was the first album of theirs I stumbled upon. It was a distinctly different direction from their previous stuff (though I didn’t know at that time) and their indie pop vibes was a winner for me. It was so chirpy with its jangly guitars but of course, as with all my favourite songs, it masked a certain sadness and longing (You’re my girl and you don’t even know it / I’m living out the life of a poet). I felt so at ease with their music, and wanted to live in their world of girls who skipped class and boys who thought of girls. I saw them live years later when I was in my early twenties in St Kilda, Melbourne. They invited a bunch of audience members to dance onstage as they performed. My friend turned to me later, “I wasn’t really in the mood to see young, good-looking white people dance badly.” I kinda agreed. Their performance was rather lacklustre. Though more importantly, to me, their songs inherited this carefree, teenage naiveté that as a soon-to-be university graduate I had trouble relating to. Though I can still listen to If You’re Feeling Sinister and their other classics now without any cringe, The Life Pursuit really represented this teenage period of escapism. I’m too old for it now.
1/ LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver & This Is Happening (2007, 2010; Age 16 and 19 respectively)
This is cheating by adding two, but I feel like you can’t really talk about one of these without the other. LCD Soundsystem’s music truly defined this period though I think more so for people in their twenties in 2007-10 (feeling displaced with growing older). I always felt that their lyrics went a bit over my head (see: All My Friends) but I felt it in my bones that their music was sad and triumphant and dance-y and everything all at once. I saw James Murphy & co. at Glastonbury last year (my first time! – and hopefully again this year at Fuji Rock). It was the best live set I’ve ever experienced. They were so full of energy, everyone was so full of tears and emotions, and I felt so at one with everything at that time in spite of all the mud and feeling dirty. I felt like I had grown so much in a span of 6-7 years, at an exponential rate no doubt, and yet, LCD Soundsystem somehow remained timeless.
Honourable mentions: Art Brut – Bang Bang Rock and Roll (2005), Kanye West – Graduation (2007), The xx – xx (2009), The Long Blondes – Someone To Drive You Home (2006), Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006), Lily Allen – Alright Still (2006), The Killers – Hot Fuzz (2004)
Of course, these albums certainly wasn’t the case for many teenagers back then. I guess what was popular then – Gwen Stefani, Black Eyed Peas, Justin Timberlake – I was never truly into. They’re fun to sing at karaoke now, but these listed albums above have really defined me. I was an insecure little git who was unsure of myself and music showed me a way out, or at least, a way to tide through this awkward period. I’m a bit better now, and I love all these bands and I’m so happy I got to see them all live (!!).