The Linda Lindas ‘Grow Up’ in Public in Teen Punk Band’s Debut Feature: Album Review
At perhaps one of the lowest points of the pandemic, in May 2021, a video emerged, like a rose emerging from a crack in the concrete, of a group of native teenage and tween girls. Chinese, Mexican and Salvadoran, a veritable Los Angeles melting pot taking the acrid anti-Asian racism in the air and turning it into a wondrous punk alchemy and atonement, an about-face that turned victim into victor.
That viral clip was “Racist, Sexist Boy,” a reaction to an experience 11-year-old drummer Mila de la Garza had with a classmate who was warned to stay away from her because she was Chinese. With Mila’s sister Lucia, 15, who plays guitar alongside lifelong friend Bela Salazar who was the oldest at 17, and Eloise Wong, a cousin of the de la Garzas, 14, in vocals and bass, they formed the Lindas Lindas, originally a new wave cover band. Their performance at the Los Angeles Public Library proved to be a living example of the persistence of punk with a nod to garage band “Nuggets” pop and caught the industry’s attention. Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, fellow Asian Karen O, Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast and Kristin Kontrol of Dum Dum Girls (which brought them together) were among their early followers. A record deal with Epitaph, Brett Gurewitz’s LA punk label, home to Bad Religion, Descendents, the Offspring, Rancid and Pennywise, among many other punk stalwarts, was an almost inevitable crowning achievement for their first act.
Now, today’s release of their 10-track debut album, “Growing Up,” in the Ramones’ great minimalist tradition, clocks in at under 30 minutes. But there’s a reason the normally taciturn Pitchfork dubbed it “potentially the most heartwarming record of the year.” Of course, this isn’t your ordinary group of sub-teens. Producer Carolos de la Garza, the sisters’ father, is a Grammy-winning mixing engineer who worked with Paramore, Best Coast and Bleached and bought his daughters their first guitars and drums. But there is nothing to complain about the result. “Growing Up” places the band among a small class of female punk icons that include Lydia Lunch, Poly Styrene, fellow Angelenos the Go-Go’s and, of course, legendary Japanese punk-rockers Shonen Knife.
Instead of dark nihilism and rejection, the Linda Lindas turn their teenage self-doubts and teenage neuroses into pop epiphanies. “When I think about things / They always go wrong”, they sing in opening “Oh!” “And when I try to help, it’s never enough.”
But there’s strength in brotherhood, and on the title track they boast, “We’ll never give in or we’ll never waver / And we’ll always grow braver and braver” over a punchy bass line and rolling drums. “We’ll take the good with the bad / Whenever we have / Make every moment last / We’ll support each other.”
Of course, there is still some doubt. “Growing up” was recorded in an epidemic after all. “Talking to Myself” is second cousin to “Our Lips Are Sealed”, thinking about “how life keeps giving despite all my bad decisions / I’m still here and I’m still living”.
“Fine” has the bratty primal appeal of The Stooges, with an experimental midsection that hints at future progress, delivered with the “Oh Bondage Up Yours” sass of Teenage Jesus & the Jerks or X Ray Spex.
“Nino” goes the other way, its feline title “a wildcat/killer of mice and rats,” complete with another dub-wise pause amid its carefree “Beat on the Brat.” “Why” channels classic Brill Building heartaches like Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party,” an impressive undertow that gives it a retrograde pre-punk vibe.
“Cunatas Veces” is partly in Spanish, but offers an outsider’s perspective that grapples with their uniqueness. “I’m different / Not like everyone else,” Bela sings in English. “And not the whole world / Will understand Me.”
“Remember” offers hope for the future, just like that debut album, “Maybe tomorrow will be / Bigger, better, bolder / Maybe today was just the quiet before storm.” But don’t think anyone has entrusted these ladies with their careers on a silver platter. “I wish on a star / A wish can only take you so far.”
With the release of “Growing Up,” that well could be the calm before the storm. If life were fair, these songs would roll out of the headphones of every teenage girl (and hip boy who wants to belong). The “magic” is to be invisible so that “nobody judges me because I want to be myself”, skimming over “my problems and my mistakes”, but insisting that you have to experiment everything to achieve success hard earned. “Because in time it would pass me by / And in time I would feel too far away.” They are teenagers with the wisdom of old souls.
By the time “Racist, Sexist Boy” becomes the album’s final track, with its righteous anger “Now I Wanna Be Your Dog” meets “Search and Destroy,” it already seems the Linda Lindas have gone from recrimination to self-acceptance. “Growing Up” displays this course with pop panache and DIY trickery. It’s their party and they’ll steal if they want.
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