Words by Kate Lockyer
Forming in 2018 as teenagers, Adelaide indie rock duo Teenage Joans, aka Cahli Blakers and Tahlia Borg, are releasing their debut album ‘The Rot That Grows Inside My Chest’, out today. Having shared stages with the likes of Amy Shark, Violent Soho, Ball Park Music, The Chats and many more, the duo have also continued to establish themselves as firm festival faves, with appearances at Spin Off, Yours & Ours, UNIFY Gathering and beyond. The band says they are equally inspired by the golden era of punk a-la Blink-182 and Paramore as much as they are by fellow modern Aussies WAAX, Camp Cope and Tired Lion.
On their debut full-length album, Teenage Joans take this hit of nostalgia and combine with it their own vivid lyrics and unabashed zing in their sound. Teaming up with producer Jarred Nettle, Teenage Joans have created a future enduring hit in ‘The Rot That Grows Inside My Chest’. “This is Teenage Joans in its purest form,” shares Blakers, pointing out that “there’s no co-writes on this album, it’s all us”. “Our music has evolved so much, and all of our different inspirations have come together into this one little baby – our little baby,” adds Borg.
Having just seen them live at Grapevine Gathering days before putting together the album review, this writer had been taken in by the duo’s larger-than-life presence onstage and was eager to dive into the new album.
The first song, Hospital Bed, starts off a little gentler than their usual style, with slow synth and echoey vocals, as if you were walking down the silent corridors of a hospital. Then it launches into their grungy distortion and fierce lyrics, refusing to give up on presumably a toxic situation until their last breath, singing, “I refuse to die on the floor / So tuck me in to this hospital bed.”
Honey (And Other Sweet Things) continues the death/killing theme of the last song, although in as reversal, in this case it seems the subject of the song killed themselves trying to help the singer, “I know you’re heaven sent / But you look like death”. Call and response between sweet vocals and fuzzy guitar in the verse contrasts the conflicting emotions in the song, like “Cause you look like death / But you’re a funeral I’d gladly attend.”
Starting with a catchy and upbeat guitar riff, Superglue is bound to stick in your head. About feeling stuck in one place, while everything sours around you, the song has memorable lyrics that paint a vivid image, like “I’m friends with the tooth fairy / She smiles with her teeth yeah, she’s so scary”.
Yoke starts with a bang of guitar and drums, before paring back to a sparsely-lyricised verse that invites the listener to fill in the blanks of the story – “Messy, your bed / Consume my head / Dissolve, forget / Lovely regret”. Almost as if they are waking up the morning after and slowly piecing the memories back together. Once we get to the chorus, we are once again delivered to that engrossingly macabre theme of blood and murder, with “Your blood is sweet so / I’m a mosquito, take what I need”.
Candy Apple started with a searingly honest description of how bad it was to be in a relationship with the person Blakers and Borg are singing about. This song might sound a bit more savoury than the lyrics of the previous, but don’t be fooled – this is a poisoned candy apple, that is so tasty they can’t come back from the sugar rush. This is one of the most memorable songs on the album, with an echoey guitar riff and catchy chorus.
The next track is You’re Not The President, defiant against someone who is mistreating them. The verse vocals switch back and forth between an effect that slightly mutes the words and unaffected belts, as if the singer is prevaricating between keeping quiet and speaking out about their experience. Obviously, the latter wins out with another loud chorus and Blakers’ punk-rock voice.
The interlude that is Sweet Things Rot plays on the ability Teenage Joans have to switch between both the sweetness of their vocals and their sentimental, vulnerable feelings in a relationship, and the plucky loudness of their calling out the bad in a relationship too. Softer picked guitar and vocal harmonies bring out this sweet side before things get heavier towards the end.
With a cool track title, Ruby Doomsday pulls us further along this story of death and decay, and the singer is prepared to hold onto this decay if it means they can keep this person causing it – “You’re the rot that grows inside my chest / But I’d give you my best”. Harking back to the Candy Apple they consumed earlier in the album, in My Dentist Hates Me!!! they are prepared to face the consequences and let the dentist take all their teeth, rather than give up “the sweetest thing I’ve had”.
Moneymoneymoney showcases more of Teenage Joans’ softer side, with vibrato and higher notes in the vocals and even a touch of violins here and there for good measure. Here metaphors of money show how they would give any amount to get this person to stay, even though they know it’s not a smart move. I love the lyrics, “I went to hell today / To sell the parts of me you hate / Now I’m wealthy but they took my brain”, to illustrate just how crazy they have become about this person.
Then, of course, Tennis Skirt is back to regularly scheduled programming with their tenacious rock sound, as they start to see what they are missing out on by staying in this relationship – “I wanna wear a tennis skirt / But you say you prefer my jeans”. The next song has me thinking perhaps this story will have a happy ending, shaking off the toxic touch. 5 Things I Can Taste, about trying to get over someone, playing on the idea of the psychological strategy to ground yourself, has a driving drumbeat that is nailed by Borg.
The album’s last track, though, leaves us in the limbo of wanting and missing, and we are left not quite knowing if they will be together or not, seeing it ends at “I thought that you’d hang up and you’d ignore me / But you came back when you put me on hold”. But then, that is how we started out in Hospital Bed, “If I hold on, will you come back? / Have you put me on hold?”, so perhaps we are caught in a toxic loop alongside them as they refuse to let go of each other.
‘The Rot That Grows Inside My Chest’ has an intoxicating theme of sweetness and rot, and the way a relationship can metastasize from something good to something decaying. Clever lyrics create a narrative that is followed throughout the album, as we headbang along to their pop-punk deliciousness.
Listen to ‘The Rot That Grows Inside My Chest’ HERE!
triple j presents
‘THE ROT THAT GROWS INSIDE MY CHEST’
W/ SPECIAL GUESTS
BELLA AMOR, DULCIE + ALEKSIAH
Tickets on-sale Tuesday 22 August @ 10am AEST time
THURSDAY 2 NOVEMBER – THE TRIFFID, BRISBANE (LIC/AA)
SATURDAY 4 NOVEMBER – FACTORY THEATRE, SYDNEY (LIC/AA)
TUESDAY 7 NOVEMBER – CORNER HOTEL, MELBOURNE (18+)
THURSDAY 9 NOVEMBER – THE GOV, ADELAIDE (LIC/AA)
FRIDAY 10 NOVEMBER – JACK RABBIT SLIMS, PERTH (18+)*
*bella amor not appearing // Dulcie main support
Thanks to Dallas Does PR