Remember how genuinely electrifying grunge felt for the first time? Maybe it was the focused aggression of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? The stadium-ready chorus in Pearl Jam’s “Alive”? Or the off-kilter rhythms of Soundgarden’s “Jesus Christ Pose”? Regardless of the gateway group and how you found them, once entered and experienced, the antisocial rage of youth wasted, emotionally disaffected, and nihilistically dejected was profoundly undeniable.

Of course, life has always had ups and downs; the early 20th century certainly attests to that. But somehow, the swings and misses of those early years just hit harder—that’s a fact. After punk’s snot-nosed genesis in the ’70s, and hardcore’s firm middle finger to authority in the ’80s, the ’90s gave voice to a generation that truly embodied an acerbic “nothing matters anymore” attitude.

With the ‘End of History’ in the rear-view and neoliberalism ascendant across the globe, it was the decade purported to make things better for everyone. Instead, they stayed the same, turn of the millennium be damned. Then they got worse and worse still. It seemed that the world was sliding irrevocably downwards, trapped in the gravitational well of political pageantry, stagnant economics, and enflamed culture wars. Oh, and then 2020 happened. So, if there was ever a time for grunge to rear its ugly, unwashed head, come full circle and put adolescent angst on tape for a new generation, it’s right now.

For L.A. alt-rockers Teenage Wrist, their second LP drops in a time of chaos and crisis. The old way is gone, and the nu-normal doesn’t look much brighter. Conversations that used to contain shades of optimism or outright pessimism now fall back on a grim sense of realism and resignation. And it’s this pervasive sense of existential malaise that makes an album title like Earth Is A Black Hole feel less like artistic metaphor and more of an accurate assessment of collective mood.

It’s a record that speaks to how the little things in life—your family, your relationships, your job, your place in the world—can weigh heavy on your psyche and well-being, dragging you down and blacking out your innermost thoughts.

Teenage Wrist’s debut album, 2018’s Chrome Neon Jesus, was an enjoyable and nostalgic dose of grunge revivalism, informed by growing up and harsh truths. As one YouTube commenter put it: “grungy-but-leaning-towards-its-punk-influences-but-also-emotional-and-a-little-indie-rock.”

After the departure of former bassist and vocalist Kamtin Mohager in 2019, guitarist and vocalist Marshall Gallagher stepped up as frontman, alongside long-time drummer Anthony Salazar. On their sophomore, follow-up album, the duo seek to push past the hauntological drive of easy nostalgia, reaching instead for a more modern and aggressive sound.

What makes Earth Is A Black Hole such a revelation, however, is how it refuses to let the gloom of the current moment dull the record’s emotional impact. The record’s title track may give nods to tipping points and climate doomerism, namechecking “Zero Day,” and the “sign of the times,” but it does so with a kinetic chorus riff that should come with an explicit safety warning. Elsewhere on the record, other pre-release singles mix the group’s emotional honesty with instrumental versatility.

Silverspoon” opts for a mid-tempo, slow-burn meditation on addiction and romance, blending the lyrical potency of Mellon Collie-era Billy Corgan with the swirling atmospherics of Swervedriver. “Taste of Gasoline” makes swallowing the bitter pill of apathy sound appealing, made all the sweeter through Gallagher’s lush vocals, shimmering guitars, and Salazar’s percussive backbone.

Yellowbelly” is a radio-ready anthem for pushing through 21st-century hopelessness and turning will into action. While Gallagher’s lyrics are ostensibly about death, Nietzschean ruminations on ‘the Eternal Return’ and temporal flat circles, the instrumental palette is anything but bleak. Jangly, shoegaze verses clash against indie-rock bridge transitions, held firmly in place by a stratospheric chorus that could easily find a home on a Goo Goo Dolls or Motor Ace record.

Throughout Earth Is A Black Hole’s tight, 33-minute runtime, impeccable sequencing carries the listener through various emotional states with ease. “Wasting Time” channels summer road-trip energy through fuzz, distortion and an urgent chorus delivery. Meanwhile, the transcendent “New Emotion” might just be the duo’s best song yet, combining the passion and aggression of classic grunge with the catchy immediacy of Jimmy Eat World’s biggest hits.

Album mid-point “Wear You Down” slows down just enough to let Gallagher’s solo work and Salazar’s punctual drumming carry the tune. “High Again” makes excellent use of spacey synths and drum samples, as Gallagher croons with listless energy: “What’s in your head? Are you nervous? Does purpose seem elusive? Are you counting all your blessings when you rise? Well, my youth is a distant glow/ And the flash of love comes and goes/ But the fear infects the future from inside.”

Closing with the heady maelstrom of “Stella,” Earth Is A Black Hole ends with crashing waves of guitars, cymbal splashes, and sporadic, distorted echoes. It’s a fitting end to an overwhelming auditory experience, albeit one that’s resolutely pleasurable and sanguine. Rays of light and hope pierce through the record’s dense, guitar-driven event horizon, allowing Teenage Wrist to gesture towards a better future.

Or, as Gallagher puts it: “All we have is this moment, and that’s the most important thing: To be present and be positive and transcend the black hole bullshit because it’s all going to end one day.” Well then, here’s to oblivion.

Pre-order and save Earth Is A Black Hole here.

Author

Owen Morawitz is a writer, thirty-something human male and an avid devourer of coffee, literature, philosophy, film noir and science fiction. He enjoys carving out a meaningless existence in the abyssal void, venturing beyond the bounds of the Southern Hemisphere, and listening to music that’s at times poignant, abrasive and restless—except when hungover.

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