In a day and age of short attention spans, Teeth & Tongue‘s new LP is a reminder why investing the time and energy in a record can be immensely rewarding. Give Up On Your Health is more than just another, unsubstantial album imitating the synth-pop and new wave of the ’80s. On the contrary, the Melbourne-based band’s fourth studio effort is one of the most poignant and emotive albums of 2016.
Most will immediately gravitate to the tantalizing waves of synths and rhythms that resonate throughout Give Up On Your Health. The songwriting of Teeth & Tongue’s creative genius Jess Cornelius, however, is what makes the album a wonderful listen. Throughout the album, the New Zealand-born artist weaves stories regarding the ending of a relationship and seeking solace far away from the chaos (in Cornelius’ case it was Iceland). But instead of being stationary, there are message of moving on from past devastation to seek new challenges. In many ways, Give Up On Your Health feels like a set of journal entries, where Cornelius is sharing her most intimate thoughts and experiences.
The combination of dazzling production and thoughtful songwriting is immediately apparent on the opening track, “Give Up On Your Health”. The music is stark yet infectious, bordering on foreboding. The storyline, meanwhile, could be a sequel to Irene Cara’s classic single, “What A Feeling”, from Flashdance. Similar to the ’83 hit movie, Cornelius creates an image of a dancer who has made sacrifices to achieve fame. The lyrics, “You got to sell yourself, but don’t you give up on your health at least not right now”, are frighteningly real and honest. It is a revelation that too many know all too well.
This poignant songwriting and stunning production reverberate on the brooding “Small Towns”. The song tells the tale of the isolation and lack of privacy that comes with living in a remote place. The spellbinding “Cupcake Revisited” sends us into the dreamworld. The synths move from the soothing to the spatial, and Cornelius crafts a tale full of memory and longing. Teeth & Tongue, however, do show a sensual side with the sultry “Are You Satisfied”. The track, though, is anything but a love story. Cornelius’ vocals have a menacing undertone, as she tells the tale of two people living in a relationship that is falling apart and where gratification is sought elsewhere.
Although Give Up Your Health is a move towards synth-pop, Teeth & Tongue do not completely abandon their past. “When We Met” sees the band return to its indie-rock roots. The track burns of PJ Harvey and St. Vincent with its gritty undertones, oft-kilter chord progressions, and the no-nonsense songwriting. Much like “Electioneering” on Radiohead’s OK Computer, “When We Met” can stand alone due to its brilliance.
The album’s songwriting star is “Do Harm”. Cornelius effortlessly moves between the first and third person on this track. Whether she is telling herself or someone to move on from a difficult relationship and experience is unknown, but the mystery is part of what makes the song enchanting. And as Cornelius engrosses us with her soft, sultry vocals, she hits us hard with poignant lyrics. She explains early on, “You can’t spend your life just punishing them. Oh it hurts hurts hurts like a knife in the guts, but you held on long enough and you’ve got to let go.” Later, she tells us with biting honesty, “Nobody said the shit would be easy and it gets harder every January”. It is an indication that the new year does not always bring a new start.
The memorable “Dianne” repeats the theme of moving. One of two songs on the album that is made for letting loose, “Dianne” blazes with a rapturous yet edgy approach that combines the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Bloc Party. It is a sheer delight musically while lyrically Cornelius reminds us that we cannot control everything. The album concludes with the synth-pop masterpiece, “Turn, Turn, Turn”. While many bands would not end a record with a blazing number, the song is the perfect ending. On this track, Cornelius shares her own experiences about turning the page and moving forward. Musically, the song is stupendous. The soothing intro, the slowly building intensity, and the euphoric outro are intoxicating.
This finale will likely make Teeth & Tongue’s new album memorable for people. However, the introspective, heartbreaking, and endearing songwriting make Give Up On Your Health an absolute treasure. The album is unlike most in today’s music industry. It is real, it is personal, and it is highly introspective. As such, Give Up On Your Health should be remembered and celebrated for being one of the rare records that is complete in every way imaginable.
In addition to Jess Cornelius, Teeth & Tongue are Marc Regueiro-McKelvie, Damian Sullivan, and James Harvey.
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