Album Review: Future Teens - Self Help
This would have been in the spring of 2017, when, outside of the full-time job I had five days a week, I was still picking up a few hours here and there at a bookstore, part-time, and while shelving a stack of recent used book intakes, I was surprised by a title that I found—Conquering Depression and Anxiety Through Exercise.
And this is most certainly not the case now, but 2017 was when I would have been way more active on Facebook in comparison to how I used other forms of social media. I took a photo of the book’s cover, which includes the word “Exercise” in enormous purple letters and the silhouette of a woman running, and I made a quick post with the book’s cover, and included the caption: “Used book intake. Putting this one in ‘humor.’”
My brother-in-law, someone who means well, yes, but I have come to understand he always has to have the last word on most things, and almost always needs to be right, commented: “I have friends who find this action very helpful.”
And that is valid, I suppose—I understand that there are people who have been able to manage mental health issues through exercise—specifically through jogging or running. But I found the title of the book—the inclusion of the word “conquering,” specifically to be extremely loaded, and perhaps an empty promise, and I found my brother-in-law’s comment, and still do find it in some way, to be somewhat dismissive.
Perhaps that was not his intent, or at least his conscious intention, but the way I interpreted the statement was that, whether he had meant it this way or not, it had the air of, “I heard that literally running away from your problems worked for one person so you must be doing it wrong if you do not believe it would work for you too.”
I don’t think about this memory, or anecdote, all that often—I am reminded of it occasionally, for one reason or another, and I think about it often enough that it was something that came to mind as I heard “Doorknob Confessional,” the explosive and gorgeous opening track from the Future Teens’ Self Help, for the first time. It’s a song where one of the band’s lyricists and vocalists, Amy Hoffman, viscerally scoffs at the very notion of exercise as a means of conquering anything—especially something like mental illness, or something more difficult to figure out a way to work through.
“Whoever said ‘Just get some exercise,’” they sing in the song’s third verse before rattling off a list of experiences that only grows in severity. “Has clearly never, ever tried to claw out of their own damn body, planned a route to their own exit sign, barely held on ’til their next appointment, couldn’t eat and went to bed for dinner…”
I am thinking about when I was first introduced to the Boston-based “bummer pop” group the Future Teens—within the early months of 2021, roughly a year into the pandemic, slightly less than a year since I began working with a new therapist, and about five months after I began requiring weekly appointments with said therapist, because things had not been going well for a long time, and as the autumn slowly became the winter and 2020 was coming to an end, the place I found myself was whatever comes after “not been going well.”
I am thinking about those appointments and the spaces in between them—a mere six days—and how there was, at times, an immediacy to how much I needed them, and how there often was an urgency to what we needed to spend our hour together talking about.
And I am thinking about when, on a cold Monday morning, I watched the color drain from my best friend’s face after making a difficult admission and then having an even harder conversation, and the moment when she asked me when my next appointment with my therapist was, and when, offhandedly I was uncertain, so I told her, “I don’t know—a few weeks?,” and I am thinking about the way, not in anger but out of love and concern, yelled back at me, “A few weeks?!?,” her voice breaking slightly out of fear.
I am thinking about how you can only outrun your problems for so long, and how you never truly conquer them like that book’s title said I could, and those problems eventually catch up to you and pull you down into the place that is whatever comes after “not been going well.”
A continuation and expansion of the themes that the Future Teens began exploring on the 2021 EP, Deliberately Alive, Self Help, as a whole, across its ten songs, is representative of an intersection—it is the intersection, or at least the space created, when “asking for help” and a “cry for help” converge into something that is beautiful, enthralling, unabashed in its honesty, but ultimately devastating, and the intersection of similarities found within different lived experiences, as Hoffman stated in a brief explanation of how the album came together.
“We’ve all learned the hard way that the best (and sometimes only) way to help ourselves is to ask for help from others. We didn’t set out to write a record about that,” they said. “Daniel and I just happened to bring each other ideas with overlapping themes about mental health and struggling to get better—sometimes it’s like we have the same brain, even with such different lived experiences.”
Similar to the shared songwriting structure from the four originals found on Deliberately Alive, the material found within Self Help is more or less evenly split between Hoffman as the lead vocalist, and presumed primarily lyricist of a song, and their counterpart, Daniel Radin—his contributions, at least in part detailing the boredom and anxiety brought on from the early days of the pandemic, primarily work to unpack the difficulties of ultimately trying to be okay with himself, while Hoffman, in often unflinching depictions, writes of their long journey to sobriety.
Self Help is both a harrowing album as it is a wildly intelligent album, specifically in how it handles its delicate subject matter. The description of “bummer pop” is a joke within the band, yes, but Future Teens have a preternatural knack for writing enormous, powerful, guitar-driven tunes that are rather infectious—and across the album, they are able to write and sing about extraordinarily challenging and very human things, while maintaining a sense of gravity, humor, and pathos about it all, and manage, with ease, to dress these things up under the guise of pop songs. There are huge moments of both sing-a-longs and scream-a-longs, with the kind of well-crafted, at times upbeat and shimmering melodies that, if you lose your focus for even a second, you might miss, or do a double take, when you realize just how brutal and bleak the lyricism can be.
It cannot be a coincidence, though perhaps it is part of the idea of the “shared brain” that Hoffman spoke of that she shares with Radin in terms of the thematic elements of the songs they were sharing with one another, but everything that happens on Self Help happens at four o’clock in the morning.
Of the album’s ten songs, three of them make reference to this specific time of day—and to many, it would be considered the early morning, and for me, close to the time I get up for work, but for the band, at least in Hoffman’s case, the implications are that four in the morning is still loosely connected to the night that has preceded it.
“I think I finally get what my sister meant when she asked, ‘What’s the point in being up ’til 4 a.m. if you’re not drinking?’,” Hoffman recalls within the opening lines to “B.Y.O.B,” a title that, in the context of the song, stands for a number of things, including “Bring Your Old Bullshit.”
In the album’s smoldering and gorgeous opening track, “Doorknob Confessional,” is, perhaps, the time when things are their worst and inescapable. “Around 4 a.m. I’m hearing voices, but nothing scares me anymore,” Hoffman sings. “I know it’s just new medication reacting to my reticence to accept the truth.”
And near Self Help’s conclusion, on “Real Change,” it’s when the avoidance of the day, and yourself, catch up to you—“At the end of a long day spent looking at my phone, I’ll tell myself I’m productive as long as I don’t stay up too late tonight—I won’t, but it’s four in the morning, and I’m tired and sick of letting myself down,” Radin confesses.
Hoffman, within “Doorknob Confessional,” sets the tone for the restlessness that runs throughout Self Help in its lyricism—“I’m always halfway between asleep and up all night”—the space that forms within the convergence of two things closing in on one another, as the material with Radin taking the lead, walk through the malaise and lost time of doom scrolling your phone, the imposter syndrome that can from the barrage of “younger, hotter people,” as he puts it, that you see on social media, and the challenge of understanding, and then accepting, the self, for better or for worse. Within these songs, he, like Hoffman, is self-aware enough to recognize there is a problem, but the album lives within the real-time attempts to make the changes necessary to solve it.
The give and take between Hoffman and Radin, in the past at least, has not been of one becoming the other’s foil as a Future Teens album unfolds, but because of how high the respective stakes are across Self Help, the Radin penned tunes offer a slight respite from the vivid reflection on Hoffman’s sobriety and what it took for them to arrive at it.
A majority of Self Help is musically rooted in big, bright, power pop arranging and instrumentation, and maybe it is because the Hoffman written songs are so heavy in terms of what they are about, but the songs where Radin takes the lead seem much more enthusiastic in comparison.
“Good Reason” opens with big strums of the acoustic guitar and Radin’s tender voice belting out the first few lyrics of the song before the rest of the band comes crashing in behind him with a mid-tempo groove that grows into a pop-leaning shimmer through the subtle jangle of a tambourine woven into the rhythm, intricate lead electric guitar work, and an antiquated synthesizer solo. But even in as bright or bouncy as “Good Reason” becomes musically, it is still about Radin’s mental health journey, best depicted in the song’s outstanding bridge section—“Sometimes life feels like being on a late night drive where someone’s taken the exit signs and replaced your headlamps with flashlights, and you’re just trying to get somewhere and not die.”
As the first half of Self Help winds down, the band doubles down on the bright, bouncy, and shimmering power pop aesthetic on “Smile With Your Teeth,” a song where Radin really introduces the ideas of personal restlessness and boredom, his difficulties of self-acceptance, and borderline addiction to his mobile phone. “Wish I could be someone who doesn’t constantly need to seek out their self-esteem from what other people think of me,” Radin confesses early in the song. “And while I’m waiting patiently I’m comparing myself to what the younger, hotter people do.”
“Smile With Your Teeth” is structured around a guitar-driven exuberance, yes, and is one of the songs written from a place of self-effacing, but well meant, humor, though, in all of that, there is a surprising moment of poignancy that connects it to the much larger conceit of the album. As the song concludes in its final chorus, Radin says he is “wasting his time in the best way.” “Trying to add some point to what feels pointless—so pointless. But I guess I could go somewhere else—a vacation from myself. Am I at the point where I’m supposed to ask for help?”
In a post on social media, and I do not remember which outlet, but around the release of Self Help, Amy Hoffman referred to it as a record that was “mostly about me getting my shit together,” which is not exactly a dramatic understatement of the narrative that runs throughout the songs they sing lead on, but does sell short just how high the stakes were and how low the depths they had fallen to had become.
Prior to the announcement of Self Help—including a bizarre rollout campaign on both Instagram and Twitter where the band had taken to sharing still images of trees, the ocean, or the sky, with text across it that said things like, “It’s not the number of breaths you take, but the number of moments that take your breath away”—the band released the Radin penned single “Same Difference,” but the other two singles released prior to the arrival of the album as a whole (“B.Y.O.B.” and “Team Sports”) have been songs where Hoffman is both the protagonist as well as their own antagonist.
Self Help’s shift in narrator and narrative is established early on in the album, and while the source of Hoffman’s difficulties is not revealed in “Doorknob Confessional,” they begin to detail their relationship with alcohol by the third track, “Well Enough,” a song that lyrically is among the most difficult to hear, simply in terms of how vivid of a portrait Hoffman paints of themself, and their ongoing struggle.
“I drank at least six days this week, but I still don’t go to parties,” Hoffman confesses within the second verse. “I keep saying I’ll change once I finish this last case, but there’s bottles in the cabinet that I don’t want to waste.”
“Well Enough,” in its narrative, details a failed intervention, as well as the lies and excuses that are made—“You’re fine, it’s all under control,” they belt in the bridge section. “Have another, just one more,” but the song’s slowly shifting chorus is its most evocative feature. During its first time through, it opens with the lines, “I’m sipping on a scotch I hate—my reward for getting through today,” but by the end of the song, in the final chorus, the tone has drastically changed. “I’ll be choking down a scotch I hate ‘cause I barely made it through today,” Hoffman admits. “I did nothing but skip another meal and walk around a Target,” before landing on the sentiment that lingers in the song's aftermath—“I’m too fucked up to help myself. Oh well.”
As the first half of Self Help closes, Hoffman reflects on the first four days of their sobriety on “B.Y.O.B.”—“Trying my best to take the edge off without drowning it in another fifth,” they sing within the first few lines of the song—one of the more explosive, cacophonic moments on the record, including a raucous call and response style chorus with lines like, “Is it coping or a problem?,” and “Getting worse here at the bottom,” which are then met with the shouted answer, “Feeling best when I feel nothing.”
There is a sense, however hard, of understanding the severity of Hoffman’s situation though within the song’s titular bridge, sung in a give-and-take with Radin. “If you bring your old bullshit, you’ll just be your own bad luck,” they explain. “You can be your own burden—won’t be worth betting on.”
Throughout Self Help, there are moments of both figurative and literal catharsis, and the anguish and hard truth of the final line in “B.Y.O.B.,” is perhaps a moment of both kinds, as the band members, in a primal, guttural howl, scream the last line, and one of my favorite from the record as a whole: “Feeling bad—at least it’s something.”
During the trajectory of Self Help, in their respective journeys, Radin and Hoffman both end up making the difficult ask in terms of the help from others, but they both, respectively, conceded that they are uncertain how to do it. As the album’s second half builds in momentum, Hoffman digs deeper into themself with the visceral and cathartic “Team Sports,” which features a brief guest stint from Dan Campbell, the frontman of the similarly minded “emo music for adults” outfit The Wonder Years, who contributes powerful vocals to the song’s bridge section and asks the difficult questions at the core of both this song, and truthfully, the album as a whole—“Are you doing okay? Are you really okay?”
“Team Sports” is a song that intelligently contrasts the uncomfortable subject matter with an infectious melody, a chorus you want to sing (or scream) along with, and a huge exhale of emotional tension as it comes to an end, and it finds Hoffman navigating the difficulties of how, exactly, can you be honest with your friends about how badly you are doing? Is it a conversation when a breaking point is reached, and the color draining from your best friend’s face as you put something on her that she wasn’t expecting and, perhaps, does not have the emotional space to process?
Or is it something that you need to address before it gets to that point?
Even in Hoffman’s want for honesty, there is the struggle they have about how much to reveal or how hard it is to pretend everything is fine. “Lately, I’m not doing great, but what’s my haircut have to do with anything?,” they ask near the end of the first verse before heading into the infectious, anthemic chorus. “I’ll talk it out at my appointment later. ’Til then, I’ve got some things to stew on,” they sing, with the rhythm of the song chugging along steadily underneath. “I’m not all right, or on my best behavior. Can we just drop it—that’s not what friends are for.”
I have, in perhaps my flashes of overconfidence as a writer, developed a penchant for dropping what I commonly refer to as “ten dollar words” into my writing as I am able—words that I would be hard-pressed to find real-life situations where I would be able to use them in conversation.
One of those words is malaise.
And it has been nearly six years since I worked a somewhat regular, Monday through Friday, day job—for a majority of the last six years, I worked within a schedule of Thursday through Monday, with Tuesday and Wednesday as my days off. It wasn’t ideal at times, especially when trying to plan something on the weekend with people who were less than understanding of the way my job worked, but my regular availability during the week for appointments, or errands, was helpful.
But having the time, and flexibility, for appointments and errands on a weekday did not prevent a sense of restlessness, or malaise, that I would often feel on those days away from work.
On those days, regardless of how many appointments or errands might fill up some of the time, I found that I was simply uncertain what to do with myself, or the rest of my time—how much time do I dedicate to something creative, or something like cleaning or organizing, before it becomes an endeavor of diminishing returns, and a visceral kind of malaise would come over me—of feeling like I am genuinely wasting the time that I have.
It is not something I think about that often, but I have been reminded that over the last two and a half years, everybody’s experience within living in and through the pandemic was different. And in reflecting, I am uncertain out of the other possibilities, which would have been worse than the experience I did have—how would I have managed either being temporarily entirely out of work, stuck at home, with my restlessness, boredom, and malaise all magnified because of the circumstances—or, if I had a desk job, asked to pack up all of the things necessary to do it from home, and try to assemble a makeshift office somewhere in my house and attempt to focus in a different environment while still trying to stave off the restlessness, boredom, and malaise that I so often associated with my time at home.
The first few months of the pandemic’s onset in early 2020 is not a time I particularly enjoy thinking about, or revisiting, because it was such an emotionally and physically difficult and demanding time for me, and even with my reluctance to return to those days, and weeks, and eventual months, it is something I cannot help but think about—specific moments, or instances—and why I am even thinking about my own experience over the last two and a half years, and how that so dramatically differs from the experiences of others, is because of the way it is handled in the song “Stress Dream,” which opens Self Help’s second half.
The way the world has shifted, and the way we have shifted with it, and whom we have become, has been responsible for a lot of art—films, books, music—since the spring of 2020, and Self Help is not a “pandemic record,” but the songs that find Radin singing lead, and certainly working through his struggle with self-acceptance, are a byproduct of the time found himself with.
For as graphic as their candor can be in their lyricism about alcoholism and the difficulties of finding sobriety in Hoffman’s narrative, Radin really matches that level of uncomfortable honesty in “Stress Dream” in how it depicts the restlessness and malaise of being stuck in your home, the well-intended tasks or projects you want to take on, the inevitability that you are unable, or unwilling to complete them, and the seemingly insurmountable ask of showing yourself a little kindness when the world was falling apart—and as the song continues to unfold, he articulates what how surprisingly daunting it can be to have just entirely too much time to yourself, and the way of thinking required not to, as he puts it, “measuring my worth in daylight hours I use.”
“Get out, get out—put on some pants and leave the house. Do some errands just to drive around,” Radin sings in “Stress Dream”’s opening line. “Anything to feel productive now.”
Then, later on, within the song’s second verse, he manages to slide in a small amount of idiosyncratic humor, which in this song, and this album, is welcome, but it also is a reflection of the current human condition of being prone to procrastination, distraction, and doom scrolling. “On one hand, it seems don’t have the time to do what I need,” he says. “On the other, I find I’m looking up which Lawrence brother died—turns out they’re all alive, and I’m glad to see that they’re all right. But now, back to the task at hand—god dammit, what was it I was doing again?”
The Future Teens inherently work within a pretty traditional four-piece band structure in terms of their instrumentation—with Radin and Hoffman both playing guitar, the lineup is complete with Colby Blauvelt behind the drum kit, and Maya Mortman on bass—the welcome surprise across Self Help is just how huge, and at times, ambitious, the band sounds. Not an outfit to weigh themselves down in production flourishes or additional layering, the album’s producer Andy Park provides subtle keyboards in a number of the songs, and sneaks in a few compelling production tricks as he’s able, one of the most noticeable is found in “Stress Dream.”
The song itself, and how it is arranged, is incredibly downcast when compared to the energy found in other places on the record, with its dirge of a tempo, and the distended strums of the electric guitars—but within the production, Radin’s voice is trailed by the faintest of atmospheric reverb (you can really hear it in the opening lines of the song, before the rest of the band comes in), with Park working in both piano notes that mirror the restrained lead guitar melody, and an undercurrent of pensive synthesizer tone.
And it is a small moment, but a moment never the less, and a moment within the song that actually stopped me in my tracks during my first listen of Self Help, but around two minutes and ten seconds into the song, there is a brief instrumental build-up, and rather than allowing a silence to hang, suspended in the air of the song, before slamming back down on the next note, there is a distorted, warping sound that bends and compresses both Blauvet’s thundering drum fill and a little bit of guitar feedback, folding it into itself before spitting it back out into the rhythm of the song, with the electric guitar strings ringing out, still downcast but honestly glistening. It is a small moment, but a surprising and beautiful one that makes an already resonant song that much more powerful.
And this is not a time that I particularly enjoy thinking about, or in some instances, reliving, and even though it was, in the end, only nine months, it made such an impact on me, that I am genuinely unable to forget it, or not return to it.
Between the end of 2005 and the early months of 2006, I was uncertain if I would actually survive the winter—like, if I would be, and I shudder at using the word, but “resilient” enough to continue finding creative ways to push myself through the long, cold, seemingly endless months, into the promise and potential of spring.
I had little, if any, idea what to do or employment prospects upon graduating from college, and for about three or four months, I had moved back to the town I grew up in, in rural Illinois. At some point in the summer, I had followed up on a potential job lead, but at the time, it did not seem like it was going to go anywhere until I received a call from the man I had met with, who was, weeks after we had initially met, offering me a job. It was in Dyersville, Iowa, the town where a bulk of the film Field of Dreams was filmed, and it required me to relocate because commuting roughly two hours, one way, was out of the question.
The process of preparing to move, and be out on my own, was tumultuous for myriad reasons, and in somewhat of a scramble to find an affordable place to live, I rented out the basement, “efficiency” apartment from a college acquaintance who was the building’s property manager—his father, if I am not mistaken, owned the building itself, which was old, and run down, and should have, if it hasn’t already been done in the last 16 years, been condemned.
The basement apartment was fine until it was not fine, which would have been as autumn receded, winter arrived, and the temperatures in the city began to drop.
And there were some electric heaters, yes, installed in questionable places and at questionable heights given that heat is known to rise—one was roughly at the height of my chest, the other, closer to the ground, but seemed like an actual fire hazard to use.
I made it through the winter, though, and sometimes I don’t know how I found it within myself to keep pushing each day, driving to a job that was, by all accounts, a mistake to take from day one. I slept in my clothes from the day, with baggy sweatpants and a sweatshirt as the final layer; I piled eleven or twelve blankets of various thicknesses and usefulness on top of myself at night; and I spent as little time as I could there—wandering the mall, or the bookstore, or sitting in a coffee shop until I was asked to leave because they were trying to close up. I was there to eat dinner, try to sleep, get up the next day, and then leave as quickly as possible to begin the process all over again.
And I have spent over 500 words now with an anecdote that is connected to one particular line as Self Help opens, in “Doorknob Confessional,” as Hoffman sings, “It’s colder in my living room than it is outside,” which is a way to look at a bleak, unfortunate situation—theirs, and mine, that I had never really articulated in that way.
I stop just short of referring to Self Help as a ‘concept album,’ but it is a tightly knit cycle of songs that are inherently connected to one another in ways both obvious and subtle. And if you are looking for some kind of mission statement, or thesis, as an access point to the album, you can find it within “Doorknob Confessional,” which is by far the finest moment on an album that is full of incredibly fine moments—a song that juxtaposes beauty with the harrowing truths of the human condition.
Taking place in the space that forms between being halfway asleep and being up all night (4 a.m), “Doorknob Confessional,” placed at the beginning of the album, is not yet Hoffman and Radin trying to close the gaps or understand the differences between a cry for help, or simply asking for it—it is an admittance, and what makes it so difficult to hear is that the admittance is where this it ends—because the journey toward change is not in this part of the story.
Hoffman’s assessments of themselves and their circumstances are stark, yes, but it is within that starkness where you, if you are like me, begin catching unflattering, or difficult to face, glimpses of yourself reflected. “No matter when I get out of bed,” Hoffman says quietly in the song's opening lines. “I’ll still be this tired.”
They, like Radin later on in the album, when faced with the converge of running from one’s self, a boredom, and a feeling of malaise, unpack that restlessness and frustration as “Doorknob Confessional” slowly builds. “Start projects left and right, then abandon them tonight,” Hoffman sings breathlessly as the second verse works itself up to an explosive release in its final few lines. “This might not be what good feels like, but at least I’m not so fucking tired.”
Musically, “Doorknob Confessional” is perhaps the most dynamic of the tunes included in Self Help—it burns slow and deliberately as the band leads itself into gigantic moments of release from the sense of tension created within the verses. It’s a beautiful give and take—a song that is surprising in just how it plays with that balance, and how that balance is executed in terms of the gradual, shimmering, gorgeous build-up to the places where the song sounds like heartbreaking, slow-motion tumbling of everything that surrounds you—like trying to both run away from yourself, and your problems, but also running head first, as fast as you can, right into them.
Considering the Future Teens titled their second full-length album Breakup Season, it is very apparent that the band does romantic heartbreak well, and at least in the past, quite often—even in the songs featured on last year’s Deliberately Alive EP, for as much as Radin and Hoffman beginning to push their songwriting into a place of more personal and difficult reflection, Hoffman used “Bizarre Affection” as an opportunity to ruminate vividly on the dissolution of a relationship.
The narrative threads of Self Help don’t exactly end with the album’s ninth track, “Real Change,” but the final track breaks away slightly from the journey depicted with “Going Pains.” The record’s most tender song, it is, in a way, still about the need for acceptance, but in contrast to the exploration of mental health, comfortability with one’s self, and the difficult path to sobriety, “Going Pains” is a breakup lullaby, with Hoffman and Radin trading off lines that find them each trying to come to acceptance with one more seemingly unacceptable thing.
Less about the convergence of a cry for help with the ask for it, “Going Pains” is, like other ideas introduced throughout Self Help, about the mistruths we try to convince ourselves of as a means of self-preservation. “It’s gonna feel so good to miss you, to have this bed to myself,” the song begins, with Hoffman taking the first verse. “To go somewhere new, and do something cool, and know you’re all set somewhere else.”
Radin, then, comes in with the second verse—“There are days it’s much harder, and sometimes you feel farther,” he admits. “But I know that you’re working; I know you’re just fine. You’ve got your own things; I’ve got mine.”
“Going Pains”’s refrain is among the more difficult lyrics to hear on the record—but it is sung so tenderly, with Hoffman and Radin blending their voices, it takes a few listens before the gravity of the heartbreak at the core of the song sets in: “I’m still glad to be gone even when it all sucks,” they concede. “And if life doesn't stop, we’ll make it a gift to be gone.”
“When going pains us this long, we’ll say it’s a gift to be gone ’til it feels true.”
The beginning of last year, truthfully, seems much, much further in the past than it actually is—perhaps that is because if the previous few years have taught us anything, it is that time is meaningless, but it is also because I, and some of the people closest to me, have been through so much and gone through so many changes and so much growth, that I do not feel disconnected, exactly, from the person I was at the start of 2021, but through both time and lived experience, it has created the feeling of more distance than there is.
And it was, when I heard the line in “Separated Anxiety,” the opening tune off of the Future Teen’s EP Deliberately Alive, “I don’t hate myself, I guess. I’m just tired and overwhelmed,” I knew that I had come across a band that was making music that was going to resonate deeply with me, where I was at emotionally then, and where I am at emotionally right now.
I have written quite a bit, especially over the last three or four years, about when certain songs, or an entire album, make me feel “seen” or “attacked,” and what the similarities and differences are in those descriptions—Self Help, and Future Teens as a band have never made me feel attacked, and more than making me feel seen, I feel like I am understood, and being met where I am. Neither the cry for help, nor the ask for it are easy things to make, or admit to, but this album, in both its beauty and undaunted portraits of extraordinarily difficult things, encourages the listener to choose the ask rather than wait until you feel the urge to cry and watch the color drain from your friend’s face in a raw moment of honesty.
I have a friend who often tells me, when I am uncertain how much I should, perhaps, beleaguer her with something difficult going on, that she is “here to hear” whatever I want to divulge. Self Help, for as much as it asks of its audience to listen to its tumultuous narratives, in its ability to meet you where you are, it is a record that is surprisingly “here to hear” you in return—allowing you to begin a dialog with yourself about where you are at now, where you want to be, and whom you can trust in the ask to help get you there.