Epitaph (16/44.1 stream, Qobuz). 2022. Produced, engineered, and mixed by Carlos de la Garza.
When your uncle is an award-winning producer and engineer, a band formed by you and your cousins has a higher-than-average shot at going somewhere. But even that family advantage can’t explain the immediate success of the Los Angeles–based Linda Lindas; they’ve earned their accolades through talent, hard work, and ingenuity. Their first album, Growing-Upoffers proof of their worth and the promise of a stellar musical future.
The band’s development and rise has been on fast-forward since the Linda Lindas formed in 2018. After a self-released EP and a handful of singles, some of which have already been used in movies and a Netflix series, the band signed with Epitaph records in 2021. This debut album was produced by the father of two band members, Carlos de la Garza, who has won Grammy Awards for his work with Ziggy Marley and Paramore and has honed the albums of a host of emerging indie acts. His experienced hand brings complicated textures and contrasts to the album’s sound, launching it well clear of the trap of fussy naãvetÇ that new artists often fall into in this DIY digital era.
Growing-Up is an apt title, given the musicians’ ages. The oldest is Bela Salazar, 17, a family friend who plays guitar. The youngest, drummer Mila de la Garza, will turn 12 in August. Her sister Lucia, age 15, is also on guitar, and their 14-year-old cousin Eloise Wong plays bass. All the girls sing.
Their youth is an essential element of their songwriting, which seizes on the universal topics of adolescent angst and the disappointing discoveries of real life. The album’s opener, “Oh!,” expresses bafflement over the way nothing comes out of one’s mouth the way it’s intended, and how actions and words seem to have no effect on what actually happens. The song’s chorus, a shrilly monotonic “What can I do, what can I say” with a melismatic “Oh!” responding in backing vocals, brings to mind the ferocious energy of late 1970s and early 1980s female-led punk and hard rock bands like Joan Jett in the Runaways or Exene Cervenka in X, both also based in Los Angeles.
The Lindas can rock out with the best of them—the slamming drums and bass sound on “Growing Up” will rattle your skull in a most satisfying way. But there’s more to this group than grungy disgruntlement. A big swath of pop running through some songs draws parallels with the Go-Go’s and the B-52s, not to mention later feminist indie acts with accessible styles like Tacocat and Girlpool. The Lindas’ “Talking to Myself” is downright hummable, with charmingly twee vocals, but that youthful sweetness belies the insightful self-analysis embedded in the lyrics.
Sophisticated observation goes out the window in the band’s first successful original single, “Racist, Sexist Boy,” released in 2021 and included here as the final track. Since the band members are Asian and Latina females, it’s not surprising that they have already had distressing interactions with bigotry to inform their songs. When Mila de la Garza witnessed a boy in school shrink from her after he learned she was Chinese, she took her anger out on her drums and created a lyric worthy of riot grrrl ancestors like Bikini Kill. (Presciently, the Lindas, singing punk covers, opened for that very band in a show at the Hollywood Palladium in 2019.)
“Racist, Sexist Boy” is pure rage and disgust, with shrieking voices and a distorted, contrapuntal bassline Mike Dirnt would have been proud to add to a Green Day number. The music lessons these girls take probably haven’t covered the Phrygian mode; still, the distinctive Phrygian sound is what makes the melody so frightening, its tonic note only a half-step from the second note of the scale, intensifying both the rise and fall of the line.
The Lindas’ video for “Racist, Sexist Boy” went viral, helping to land them a record deal. It’s telling that this sonic expression of fury should be what so many new fans latched onto. The band gives voice to a widely felt need to overpower the oppressors, a longing to take pride in oneself without apology.
But what is likely to broaden the Lindas’ appeal beyond the terminally angry is a glint of optimism found in some of their songs. In “Magic,” they ask, “What if magic was real? … Maybe reality is better.” In “Remember,” they muse that “Maybe tomorrow will be bigger, brighter, better / So maybe today won’t matter anymore.” Of the many remarkable things about these four gifted and determined girls, perhaps their most unusual attribute is the ability to both see their troubles clearly and see through them to the potential light beyond. If their musical trajectory continues as it is starting, we can expect them to harness that power into many inspiring, skull-rattling albums.—Anne E. Johnson