Indie rock is a genre fraught with dichotomies—style versus substance, for example, or power versus finesse, though none as difficult as pop versus avant-garde. It’s a divisive dichotomy, the sort that spark Twitter rants and Reddit arguments, and also difficult to bridge; after all, can an artist really be accessible and experimental at the same time?
For years, Phoenix, AZ’s Pro Teens have skewed slightly toward the latter. Though the band’s 2017 EP Philistines shows some pop potential, their songs still seem too warped, too arcane, too clever. It’s there, but buried beneath the gunky, glittery guitars; the dizzy, dusky chord progressions; singer Andrew Phipp’s congested tenor. But Pro Teens has tamed their sound since, tightened it just enough so that Twos, their second full-length album, reveals that rare band able to span the impossible gap between avant-garde and pop.
Take “Anybody’s Baby,” a soulful rock ’n’ roll song with a psychedelic tint—a track that seems to have been in hiding in someone’s dusty’s garage for fifty years. Here, Phipps’s waxy warble dribbles onto a sharp and synced rhythm section, striking a precise balance between curious and catchy. The next track, titled “Anybody’s Game,” conjures the Cars conjuring the Velvet Underground; as Zach Parker’s bass tugs against Kalebh Ryal’s squinting chords, Matt Tanner keeps a steady beat, creating a foundation on which Phipps’s voice can tramp and tantrum and ultimately collapse, panting, desperate for breath.
Certainly, some songs on Twos still seem oblique, including closing track “Death, Cranked,” which spirals slowly into an overcast ocean, obscured by the waves undulating on the surface. But the rest of the record remains on solid, familiar ground: the doomed doo wop “Poorly Wrapped” which showcases Phipps’s vocals at its most agile; the Summer of Love vibe on “I Don’t Have The Body,” with its cartwheeling chords and tambourine beat; the R&B ballad “Mona 2,” whose shadows are lined by sweet harmonies and B Bohannon’s sparkling synths. In fact, ironically these songs are fresh because they evoke sounds and aesthetics from other eras, especially the ‘60s and ‘70s.
In another time and place, Pro Teens could have been a radio sensation, the sort of band couples could have skated to at roller rinks or that might have accompanied laser light shows. But, of course, Twos sounds like no album that has ever been recorded, past or present, even if it contains echoes of the past. This interesting irony is the means through which Pro Teens establish a balance between accessible and experimental, and what makes them rare in a genre that forces artists to take sides.