Kids These Days truly is a rare band. With the assembly of eight separate personalities producing music that spans many genres with live instrumentation, the gap for error is apparent. Yet these eight Chicago teens do not only harmonize blues, pop, rock, soul, jazz and hip-hop effortlessly, but they do so with the execution of musicians two decades deep into their career. They dropped the very dope Hard Times EP last year and are back with their debut full length LP, Traphouse Rock, that showcases a progression leaps and bounds ahead of their previous work, both sonically and collectively.
If someone picked any song on this album, they’d be greeted with a myriad of sounds and instruments, all consistently balanced; this is crucial for a group with so many different pieces all blending into one. This shows when male vocalist/guitarist Liam Cunningham soulfully serenades about how a man’s world means nothing without a woman by his side on “A Man’s Medley,” using the cadence of a voice well beyond his years, or MC Vic Mensa’s ridiculously effortless flow on “Don’t Harsh My Mellow” accompanied by ominously haunting piano keys by female vocalist Marcie Stewart with a spiraling chorus that sounds like it’s falling apart.
The horn section alone in this band would be enough to grab hold my attention for all fifty-eight minutes of the album with trumpeter Nico Segal and trombonist J.P. Floyd. On the song “GHETTO,” Segal hits high staccato notes alongside Floyd, who provides a distorted, whiny drone throughout the song. The beat switches midway to a faster tempo where they play musical ping pong back and forth, until drummer Greg Landfair closes out the song with a sweet solo. This lush instrumentation literally permeates every song.
The subject matter Kids These Days delve into on Traphouse Rock address a plethora of different aspects of teen youth, but doesn’t get redundant or dramatic in that bullshit teen angst kind of way. The pretentious, cynical perception musicians their age typically have in this generation is cleansed by a very genuine place of youth with relatable topics.
Adolescent nostalgia breathes over subdued trumpets that open up the track “Talk 2 You” as Mensa speaks to an old friend/ex over the phone about all the old memories they shared. Pain and regret drunkenly dance with each other in the hook Cunningham sings so honestly: “Bottoms up baby I’ve been drinking/ Let me tell you about what I’ve been thinking/You’re the reason why I wrote this song/ I hope it hasn’t been too long.”
Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, who also hails from Chicago, handled a large majority of the production on this project and did a phenomenal job. The layered instrumentation and improved musicality of Kids These Days is most likely a result of Tweedy’s mentorship.
Take the cohesive instrumentation of The Roots and the free spirited style of Gym Class Heroes pre-2008, and that’s close to how this band operates. Traphouse Rock is music in its rawest, purest form, from a group of musicians celebrating their adolescence through music played at a much higher caliber.