Teen Runnings’ debut album Let’s Get Together Again was such a pure, finely honed rush of scuzzy, lo-fi early Beach Boys-style summer melodies and 80s Jesus And Mary Chain noise pop, so comfortable in its niche that it’s hard to see where the band could take it from there. Of course that particular musical seam is rich enough that they could have stayed there, fleshing out their influences and refining their songwriting and arrangements without really moving on, and for a large portion of Now that’s what they do.
Songs like Don’t Care About Me pick up exactly where the band’s debut left off, while I Wonder What Your Mom’s Thinking develops the 80s jangle-pop aspects of their sound. I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that somewhere in Shota Kaneko’s mind there lurks a massive Slade fan struggling to escape and start pounding out glam rock anthems, and High School Love seems to borrow the intro to Cum On Feel the Noize, although it swiftly departs in another direction entirely and ends up being one of the songs that best exemplifies the growing sophistication of Teen Runnings’ songwriting and arrangements.
Where Now diverts most strongly from these fuzzy, summery, punkish guitar pop is in the growing incursions of other genres as the album progresses. Leather Jacket has a squelchy funk bassline, while the bass becomes even more slippery on Sightseeing, with the addition of a clattering drum machine and a growing influence of synths on the song’s overall texture. Meanwhile closing song Don’t Take Me Down is full-on 80s synth-pop, stealing wholesale the chord progression from Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up but a plenty fun, catchy pop tune in its own right.
And in the end, despite the 60s garage roots, it’s the primarily 80s that Teen Runnings seem to hark back to, albeit an 80s that was itself deeply in love with the 60s. The cover art by Hiroshi Nagai recalls the artist’s earlier work on Eiichi Ohtaki’s classic 1981 album A Long Vacation, which itself owes a lot to David Hockney’s 1967 work A Bigger Splash (albeit without the fun of the actual splash) just as Ohtaki’s music drew heavily on the Beach Boys and Phil Spector. Where Nagai and Ohtaki took the 60s and refined its aesthetics – removing the splash, as it were – Teen Runnings go a long way towards putting some of that kinetic power back in, and on Now, they do a good job of maintaining that balance.