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Sonic Avenues - Television Youth

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Artist: Sonic Avenues

Album: Television Youth

Label: Dirtnap

Review date: Jan. 31, 2012

The last generation of television youth has already crossed puberty, succeeded in malls and 7-11 parking lots and all-ages clubs by a group of kids raised on YouTube and Facebook and texting. It’s been a long time since anyone rushed home after school for Gilligan’s Island or zonked for most of a summer in front of MTV.

All this is a way of saying that Sonic Avenues’ really excellent album Television Youth is an anachronism, not just in its musical references – The Jam, The Clash, The Only Ones and certain harder-edged elements of The Kinks – but in its way of looking at the world. It’s just not the same being a punk kid in a dead-end town anymore. No matter where you live, no matter how far away the nearest rock club or comic book store, there are kids just like you at the other end of your Wi-Fi connection. It’s harder work to be alienated. The romantic figure at the center of pop-leaning punk – from The Clash’s Jimmy Jam to Green Day’s St. Jimmy to The Exploding Hearts’ pretender – isn’t up against the world by himself anymore.

Not that Sonic Avenues haven’t made a terrific set of songs, a punching, pounding document of late adolescent angst. Television Youth is harder, sharper, stronger than the Avenues earlier material, stripped of the meandering psychedelics of their 2006 September Sessions and the lazy, hazy harmonies of their self-titled EP. The band, out of Montreal, has learned the trick of slipping in sugary tuneful-ness without breaking momentum, so that you can hum most of these songs in the shower, even though they’re shouted en masse on record. The guitar work is particularly fine, slashing down the power chords and letting them ring in epic, anthemic triumph. The vocals, too, are more striking than you’d expect, the main line ornamented, in many cases, by descants and contrary flourishes. And most of all, the band plays with razory sharpness, running fast and hard, but never sloppy. You’ll hear no dangling ends or false starts here.

The album works best when it sticks to romantic frustration, as on “Givin’ Up on You”, “Wastin’ Away Alone” and especially “Fadin’ Love.” These are rackety, aggressive songs, full of directionless energy, yet structured with strong, memorable hooks. There’s nothing false in the combination of sweetness and bristling hostility. The songs feel exactly like love gone wrong (and also like driving really fast in the dark with the headlights off).

Yet, when Sonic Avenues attempts a statement for its generation, things go amiss. “Television Youth” sounds like an anthem, its jittery guitars climaxing in giant power chord crescendos, its shout-along melody punched out with bravado. And yet, “We’re the lost generation…television youth” … who talks this way anymore? What is it, 1981? I’m not sure that kids under 18 even think of themselves as a generation. They’re too connected to people older and younger than they are.

So, Television Youth is a great-sounding album, but I think it probably appeals mostly to people who liked first-wave punk, people now in their 30s and 40s and 50s. There are no more television youth, just old people who remember how it used to be.

By Jennifer Kelly

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