At one of the lowest points in the pandemic, in May 2021, a video emerged, like a rose growing from a crack in concrete, of a group of teenage girls and pre-teen girls of Chinese, Mexican and Salvadoran descent, a veritable melting pot of Los Angeles taking vitriolic anti-Asian racism into the air. And turning it into wonderful alchemy and atonement, he turned the face around the victim into a victor.
This video was “Racist, sexist boy”, in reaction to 11-year-old drummer Mila de la Garza’s experience with a female colleague who was warned to stay away from her because she is Chinese. Along with Mila’s 15-year-old sister, Lucia, who plays guitar along with Bella Salazar, a lifelong friend who was the eldest at 17, and Eloise Wong, De la Garzas’ cousin, 14, on Lead vocals and bass, formed by Linda Lindas, were originally a new wave cover band. Their performance at the Los Angeles Public Library proved to be a vivid example of punk persistence with a nod to garage band “Nuggets” pop and grabbed the attention of the industry. Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, fellow Asian Karen O, Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino, and Dum Dum Girls’ Kristen Control (who put them together) were early adopters of them. A record deal with Brett Gorewitz’s label L.A. punk Epitaph, home of Bad Religion, Descendents, The Offspring, Rancid and Pennywise, among many other punk proponents, was almost inevitable in their first act.
Now, today’s release for the first time of 10 tracks, “Growing Up,” in the tradition of the great minimalist Ramones, clocks in at under 30 minutes. But there’s a reason the usually sparsely worded Pitchfork has been called “probably the heart-warmest record of the year.” Of course, this isn’t your average group of well-made sub-teens. Producer Carlos de la Garza, father of the two sisters, is a Grammy-winning mixologist who worked with Paramore, Best Coast and Bleach and bought his daughters their first guitars and drums. But there is no disagreement with the result. “Growing Up” the group takes its place among a small class of female punk icons that includes Lydia Lunch, Poly Styrene, fellow Angelenos the Go-Go, and of course, Shonen Knife, the legendary Japanese punk player.
Instead of dark nihilism and rejection, Linda Linda turns teenage doubts and neurosis into popular manifestations. “When I think of things / They always turn wrong,” they sing in the opening “Oh!” “And when I try to help, it’s never enough.”
But there’s strength in the fraternity, and on the title track, they boast, “We’ll never forgive or we’ll never waver / And we’ll always be braver and braver” to amazing bass and rolling drums. “We’ll take the good with the bad / All the times we’ll face / Make every moment last / We’ll have each other’s backs.”
Certainly, there is still doubt. “Growing up” was recorded in an epidemic after all. Talking to Myself is the second cousin of Our Lips Closed, and it reflects on “How life keeps on giving despite all my bad decisions / I’m still here and I’m still alive.”
“Fine” has a choppy initial appeal from the Stooges, with an experimental midsection hinting at future progress, and delivered with sassy “Oh Bondage Up Yours” for teen Jesus & the Jerks or X Ray Spex.
Nino goes the other way, titled Wild Cat/Mice and Rat Killer, complete with another break amid the “Beat on the Brat” mystery. Broadcasting classic Brielle Building’s heartbreak as Leslie Goure’s “It’s My Party,” “Why” is an impressive churning scene that lends it a sweet, pre-punk vibe.
“Cunatas Veces” is partly written in Spanish, but offers an outsider’s perspective dealing with its uniqueness. “I’m different / I’m not like everyone else,” Bela sings in English. “And not the whole world/will understand me.”
Remembering provides hope for the future, as with this entire debut, “Maybe tomorrow/Be bigger, better, bolder/Maybe today was just the calm before the storm.” But don’t think anyone has given these ladies their careers on a silver platter. “I hope a star/wish take you so far.”
With the release of “Growing Up,” this may well be the calm before the storm. If life were fair, these songs would stream from every teenage girl’s earbuds (and lusty boy who wants to belong). “Magic” is about being invisible, so “no one will judge me for wanting to be who I am,” and hovered over “my problems and my mistakes,” but insisting that one must experience it all to achieve their hard-earned success. “Because over time it passes me by / And over time I feel so far away.” These are teenage girls with the wisdom of old souls.
By the time “Racist, Sexist Boy” comes out as the album’s final song, where “Now I Wanna Be Your Dog” meets righteous “Search and Destroy,” Linda Lindas already seems to have moved from accusations to self-acceptance. “Growth” paints that cycle with pop skill and do-it-yourself cunning. It’s their party and they’ll fly if they want to.