Feel The Sound: REVIEWS
ALLMUSIC.com: 4 stars
In just over 16 years of existence, Imperial Teen has lived the quintessential experience of the ’90s indie band that’s still kickin’ around. Existing on the plane of acts that could have but didn’t break through to mainstream success in the era of post-Nirvana alternative clamor, the Teens avoided a lot of drama and burnout, allowing them to grow the project sustainably. Eventually, the individual personal lives of the bandmembers took priority and the space between albums grew in years. This kind of backstory usually ends with the artists turning in a less-inspired version of their younger selves, or tepid fare for die-hard fans only. Luckily for everyone, this is not the case with Imperial Teen. On their fifth album, Feel the Sound, the bandmembers sound more fresh-faced and excitable than a lot of bands just starting out. From the first notes of caffeine-buzzed album opener “Runaway,” we hear the sound of a band that never left the scene more than one vying for a comeback. Continuing their tradition of power pop-informed melodies and precise musicianship, the 11 songs make slight nods to the influence of Electric Light Orchestra’s over-the-top productions without actually going for an overblown orchestration. The distant feel and contained instrumentation of “Hanging About” comes closer to the clean-to-the-point-of-sterility production style of spacy Weezer side-project the Rentals. Almost every song meets somewhere between these two frameworks, with the drum-machine click of “No Matter What You Say” eventually succumbing to pristine vocal harmonies, or the pocket symphony lilt of “All the Same” rushing by in colorful waves. These highlights are glowing with sugary hooks that don’t just hold up to repeat listening, but almost demand it. The rush of hyper pop crashes a little bit on the record’s second half, and the background vocals that supported the songs perfectly earlier on start to feel overbearing. The omnipresent “ba ba ba” choruses on “Don’t Know How You Do It” and “Out from Inside” threaten to push the tunes’ summery, top-down vibes into partially finished filler territory. Even these numbers are salvaged by subtle production touches that crystallize their best moments. Understated strings volley counter melodies back and forth with the overdriven guitar of “It’s You,” the orchestration never sitting still long enough to lose the listener’s interest. When even the less memorable moments steer clear of becoming innocuous, it may suggest they’re more growers than immediate pop captivators, and further listens may reveal deeper merit. The wealth of hook-heavy pop wonders alone makes Feel the Sound a fantastic record, but the sure-footed air of confidence and self-assurance that carries the record is what truly cements Imperial Teen as more of an institution than a band. As they carve out their nook at whatever pace they choose, at this point we can rest easy knowing it’s quite likely going to be great.
It’s a good time to be Imperial Teen. The San Francisco quartet were squishing together hooks and drones before everyone had broadband, and now they’ve returned with their first album in five years, just as bands like Frankie Rose and Weekend are helping revive the sound of classic indie pop. Feel the Sound turns blipping guitars and synth riffs into roller-skate jams the whole band can harmonize over. Even if Imperial Teen’s gay pedigree seems, thankfully, far less of a big deal than it used to, it’s still cool to hear “Last to Know” endorse “pumped-up pecs and sticky skin,” while “Over His Head” and “Hanging About” are perfect for pretending the Pacific Coast Highway is the Autobahn.
Tagged as “alternative pop” for its entire 16 years, the two men/two women quartet cements its grasp on contemporary pop with an album keenly aware of party-anthem beats, easily repeatable choruses and mixes that are more high-end vocal than churning guitar, a trademark of the group’s early sound. In the ’90s, Imperial Teen sounded like a band whose younger siblings had found a rock career that they could emulate. Today the act takes a modern rhythmic approach to early-MTV-era new wave to create joyful rock. “Feel the Sound” is a playful effort that comes from an ease with pop hooks and power-pop chords, a knowledge of how to employ a steady beat that owes more to Feist than Foo Fighters. Punchy and spirited tracks abound: album-opening party-starter “Runaway,” the subtly potent “Over His Head” and the lush made-for-the-end-credits rocker “All the Same.” “Out From Inside” finds the meeting point of midtempo Squeeze and Prince’s pop side in the mid-’80s, proof that influences that might’ve been too immediate when a band starts out can be retrieved to great effect 15 years later.
On 2007’s The Hair The TV The Baby And The Band, intermittent indie-rock concern Imperial Teen attempted to square its rock ’n’ roll lifestyle with the reality of middle age. “And now we have to book the rental cars / We no longer smash guitars,” sang Roddy Bottum (of Faith No More fame) on the resigned “Room With A View.” The new Feel The Sound—Imperial Teen’s first album in five years—is similarly adult-minded, but remarkably more assured and hopeful. It’s the sound of a band comfortable in its own skin, but still not afraid to embrace the unexpected.
Another thing that remains constant: the group’s knack for symphonic pop gems, twee-but-vampy rave-ups, and chirpy boy-girl vocals. Bottum and company are time-tested veterans at this point, having perfected their M.O. on 1998’s What Is Not To Love and 2002’s terrific On. Their familiar touch once again serves them well, though it does make for an album that sometimes feels too comfortable.
Happily, Sound’s peaks are breathtaking and surprising: The opener, “Runaway,” is a driving, symphonic wonder that remarkably features all four band members on lead vocals. “Over His Head” recalls the sinister slink of What Is Not To Love, and comes complete with a gorgeous, woozy, and wholly unexpected middle eight. “All The Same” is stuffed with near-unbearable sadness and yearning, while “Out From Inside” lightens the mood with a bit of Prince-like strut. A sense of weary yet wide-eyed melancholy permeates the album as a whole, which, like adult life, coasts along in a comfortable groove, waiting for the increasingly rare pockets of adolescent bliss.
NYLON : Our five favorite songs of the week!
Imperial Teen, “Runaway”
Since the start of 2012 I’ve been fighting the urge to leave the city for a few days, and today I’m caving and doing it. My on-the-road soundtrack comes courtesy of these San Francisco indie pop masters, who will release their fifth album at the end of the month. The first single, the unabashedly sunshine-y track “Runaway,” is perfect for blasting from your car windows while you hightail it out of town. Oh, and because they’ve printed the lyrics along with a sneak preview of the track (genius move), there’s really no excuse not to sing along.
SPIN MAGAZINE : First Spin: Stream Imperial Teen’s Full ‘Feel the Sound’
Feel the Sound is Imperial Teen’s first new album in five years, but you wouldn’t know it from the sterling collection of beautifully arranged, melody-rich pop songs on display. The San Francisco-based band led by former Faith No More keyboardist Roddy Bottum shows no signs of rust on its fifth studio album, which we’ve got streaming for you in its entirety.
Tracks like “Runaway” and “All the Same” are pocket epics — reminiscent of the New Pornographers or the music ELO was making in its mid-to-late-’70s heyday — brimming over with lush vocal harmonies, lovely instrumental counterpoint, vintage-sounding keyboards, and perfectly-deployed crunchy guitar. Feel the Sound is out January 31 on Merge, just in time to help overcome a case of the February blahs.
MAGNET MAGAZINE : MP3 At 3PM: Imperial Teen
Imperial Teen, a band of young-at-heart pop creators with a ’70s throwback sound, is releasing its first album since 2007 on January 31. Feel The Sound (Merge) is an LP full of energy and warmth, and the group’s symphonic pop sound is still as fresh as its debut in the ’90s. The outfit’s famous four-part harmonies are still intact, as is its penchant for switching around instruments. Feel The Sound track “Runaway” is a foot-tapping, head-bobbing good time.
CONSEQUENCE OF SOUND : Album Review: Imperial Teen – Feel the Sound
Even in their 16th year as a group, Imperial Teen continues to prove their staying power. Allowing lengthy periods to pass between releases, Feel the Sound is only the fifth album to join the foursome’s previously well received catalog. Even though five years have elapsed since their last release, this album emerges as some of their most memorable indie pop to date.
Despite the delay, Imperial Teen returns to each recording with the same impeccable understanding of their music. Feel the Sound employs the same youthful exuberance their catalog is noted for, the sugary harmonies as hard to resist as ever. The proper kickoff to end the hiatus, opener “Runaway” shines with shared lead vocals that bait listeners into a whirlwind of steady drums and keys that sound plucked from an earlier era. The energizing vocals are swapped between the two male and two female members of the group effortlessly, crafting choruses that are difficult to forget. Such is the case for the waltzing vocals on “Last to Know”, which expand drastically, their echoes darting among an uprising of guitar and drums.
Feel the Sound welcomes listeners back into the sunny world of Imperial Teen that they didn’t even realize they were missing. “Out From Inside” would be perfect to soundtrack a beach party, pouty vocals and the shimmer of guitar foreshadowing a surprise ending of distorted keyboard. Even when the group scales down, a whimsical pop nature remains intact. “Overtaken” is a striking closer, led by tragic keys and warped vocals that match the peculiar pop nature of Mates of States. Imperial Teen have regularly delighted fans with their recorded material’s impish tendencies, and Feel the Sound is no exception.
Essential Tracks: “Runaway” , “Last to Know” , and “Out From Inside”
the hair the tv the baby & the band: REVIEWS
In a summer full of recent reunions by the likes of Meat Puppets, Crowded House, The Police and The Spice Girls, Imperial Teen has also regrouped after a five-year gap. Often, a hiatus can change the group dynamic or cause a wild reinvention to modernize the core sound that fans grew to love. But judging by The Hair, the TV, the Baby and the Band, the San Francisco band sounds fresh and inspired, picking up where it left off with a collection of crisp three-minute pop songs.
Since the mid-’90s, Imperial Teen has been known for its blend of garage-rock, new-wave and shimmering pop-punk. “Do It Better” follows that formula to perfection: Awash in jangly guitars, warm synths and a straight-ahead danceable pulse, the music is plenty infectious. From the rhythmic single-note guitar phrase to the simple vocals, repetition functions as a key ingredient in its own right.
While the chorus brims over with soaring hooks, the words reveal a somber undertone of longing and regret. As a deeper meaning surfaces beneath the energetic melodies — “Made a fortune and now it’s gone / I held on to it too long” — it’s clear that “Do It Better” functions as more than just a glossy, road-trip-friendly pop gem.
ROLLING STONE : 8/23/07
Californian indie geniuses keep the flame burning on fourth album.
So about that title. Hair: Jone Stebbins tours with her styling scissors. TV: Roddy Bottum scored the defunct ABC series Help Me Help You. Baby: Lynn Truell, nee Perko, is pregnant in her booklet photo. Which leaves Will Schwartz as the band, still harboring dreams that these veteran art-pop up-and-comers will someday be remunerative as well as catchy. Catchy they remain on their belated fourth album — also bright, dynamic, tender, brainy, unpretentious and civilly pansexual. But after barely playing out in five years, are they a band on the strength of a written-from-memory title tune about touring’s frantic rush? Or of “Room With a View,” about a rehearsal space where you can pretend you’re “twenty for life”? Or of “Fallen Idol,” in which Schwartz complains or admits, “Since I’ve gone solo/We’ve hit a new low”? That low is pretty high. But nobody can pretend to be twenty forever.
ALL MUSIC :
[Picks Of The Week on All Music Guide¹s New Release Newsletter]
After 2002’s low-key pop masterpiece On, the members of Imperial Teen took some time — five years, to be exact — to focus on other projects. These included a hairstyling business, writing music for TV, pregnancy and another group, and provided the title for 2007’s even more laid-back The Hair the TV the Baby the Band. The time off did the band good: This album is just as smart and catchy as the band’s previous albums, despite its mellow veneer.
Imperial Teen’s approach hasn’t changed much since 2002’s On — or their debut Seasick, for that matter — but The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band’s kaleidoscopic indie pop finds them fitting into the musical landscape of the late 2000s easily. Kindred spirits such as the New Pornographers and the Brunettes have a similar flair for throwing together ’60s pop, bubblegum hooks and harmonies, and slyly subversive, chugging cool descended from the Velvet Underground, but Imperial Teen have a breezy, almost blasé, way of making their words and music seem effortless. And though the album has its fair share of songs that sound like stylish, smart, but lulling background music on first listen, The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band reveals its catchiness gradually; tracks like “One Two” and “It’s Now” manage the neat trick of being peppy and mellow at the same time. Even when Imperial Teen bust out the rock, as on the sassy, “hair-hoppin'” “Sweet Potato,” the band does it with a unique restraint. This subtlety, and the band’s fluent reinvention of pop’s past, are the biggest signs that Imperial Teen are a group in their second decade. Just because this album is the work of a mature band doesn’t mean that it’s stodgy: “Shim Sham” could be from an older and wiser B-52’s (but not too old or wise to cut a rug). “The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band,” which recounts how Imperial Teen’s members spent their hiatuses, plays like the Archies entering their midlife crises. The band gets even more archival on tracks like “I Love Everything,” a wry homage to Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, and the excellent “Fallen Idol,” a piece of meta-pop that bobs along on jaunty pianos borrowed from the collected works of Elton John, Paul McCartney, and Al Stewart. “Do It Better,” which could’ve easily appeared on Seasick, and “21st Century,” a collage of pretty melodies, artfully splattered guitars, and nostalgia for what used to be the future, dig into the more recent past (likewise, Anna Waronker and Steve McDonald’s co-production credits will give fans of ’90s alt-pop and power pop a warm, fuzzy flashback). Taking a five-year break would be career suicide for a lot of bands, but Imperial Teen’s extended vacation was a risk that paid off: The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band is a grower full of grown-up pop.
When Faith No More became no more in 1998, well after that famous fish stopped flapping, FNM keyboardist Roddy Bottum had as much use for the San Francisco freak-rock-metal-funk-experiment as a box of Rice-A-Roni. Bottum’s role in the band became less significant as time wore on, and even though he drudged through various shit storms and stuck like a champ until the band’s ultimate demise, faith in his old bay area mates was anything but devout.
During the mid-90s, along with drummer of The Dicks Lynn Truell, Bottum formed the breezy cheery feel good about your face pop outfit Imperial Teen, whose debut album Seasick was produced by Redd Kross crazypants Steve McDonald, and became the 4th best album of 1996 according to Spin Magazine at a time when people actually read Spin Magazine.
In 1999, their gleeful rush of charm landed on the Jawbreaker movie soundtrack which then lead to opening slots for such weirdo acts as Hole and Marilyn Manson. After Universal Records bit a significant chunk out of the necks of everyone in the early 2000s, Imperial Teen eventually found sanctuary on Merge, who in 2002 would release the band’s third animated hurrah, On.
Powered by a landslide of disarming jubilance, The Hair The TV The Baby And The Band, slated for an August 21st release on Merge, is a praiseworthy assortment of candies, lollipops, and everlasting gobstoppers full of sweet sweet pop that would make any dentist cringe in horror.
“Shim Sham” is one of the sexiest numbers on this collection of twelve, shining with a fervid luster like Veruca Salt, Velocity Girl or That Dog might have done in the mid-90s when their names meant something, to anyone. “One Two” and “Sweet Potato” are gut punch workouts that should be blasted into school cafeterias across the country, providing our lil fatso leaders of tomorrow with some much needed exercise. “Room With A View,” the album’s longest prick which pokes for close to four-minutes, is an ingratiating hum of pleasure that reflects the graceful experience of this zestful outfit. The tepid closer “Do What You Do” is similar to a smooth Belle And Sebastian stroke of breathtaking mastery.
The fulgent feel one gets when fingering The Hair The TV The Baby And The Band is quite exhilarating, like a quick brush against an attractive stranger in a crowded stairwell. As your body gently scrapes against theirs, you feel something that immediately ignites the junk in your dormant trunk and before you can turn around to track down your new found love, its gone and lost forever.
Although Bottum is openly gay and his band, from San Francisco of all places, have been labeled a queer-pop quartet by those who find labels necessary, Imperial Teen have created a universally delightful piece of audio here that will easily cross over the cross gender lines of altered sexuality for the satisfaction of every ass on god’s good planet. The debonair vocals and picturesque melodies are quite addictive, soft and gentle like a cool midnight kiss or as flesh melting as the stringent summer sun.
RETRO LOWFI.com :
Sweet Jesus, this album is so much fun. It’s so nice to have more from Imperial Teen.
It’s been about five years since we last heard from the brassy power-poppers. Five years might not seem like a terribly long time, but upon first listen to this record, you’ll realize just how much you’ve missed this band. What’s more, the five-year gap hasn’t cooled Imperial Teen’s signature combination of glowing synth, jangly guitars, panting vocals, sweet harmonies, and garage rock. Not in the slightest. No question, The Hair The TV The Baby & The Band is the epitome of living room dance party.
“Everything” kicks the album off to a glorgious start, listing off things that make life both blissful and horrific and loving every bit of it; exuberance absolutely explodes here. The first single “Shim Sham” is easily one of the best tracks of the record, although making that distinction is difficult, as the album is one giant balloon of blossoming pop goodness. “Fallen Idol” is perhaps one of the sunniest songs of all time. The ridiculously sexy “Sweet Potato” seems like a lost B-52s track — that, of course, is a compliment. Even the band’s softer moments, such as “What You Do,” coo with way more energy than you’d think it would.
Nonetheless, the songs here are more than glitter. Beneath these tracks are songs that dream of youth. While, yes, “Shim Sham” loves the idea of being carefree, it’s also nostalgic, as the members of Imperial Teen are all approaching middle age. “Room With a View” laments not being able to be “twenty for life.” What makes this juxtaposition work is that Imperial Teen doesn’t sound like they’re ignoring their stage in life. Instead, they push forward, ever entralled for what’s to come (see “It’s Now”). The period between The Hair and the band’s stellar 2002 album On may have given Imperial Teen some growing up time (just take a look at the title), but on The Hair, the band sure as hell doesn’t seem like it’s getting older.
Simply said, this album cannot be recommended enough. So many catchy hooks, breathy harmonies, and more sass than is healthy for anyone. It’s as good, if not better, than anything they’ve ever done. The Hair The TV The Baby & The Band should be acquired with astounding speed and obstinacy!
This is the sound of a band with nothing to lose. Four bosom buddies and their trusted George Martin behind the boards, Redd Kross medic Steve McDonald, making aural joy because their chemistry is perfect. Shinsian popsters rejoice. Here’s another dreamsicle caked with sugar sugar. The San Francisco quartet’s fourth LP bursts out of the chute on a pounding piano beat and the group’s deadly, almond-scented boy/girl/boy/girl harmonies. Will Schwartz, Lynn Truell, Roddy Bottum, and Jone Stebbins then reel off one hook after another. The sleek bop of “Do It Better” dances like the Sixties cola commercial you’ll never forget. “Shim Sham” is straight out of the B-52’s “Love Shack.” Bottum tap dancing through the title track: reality MTV. Schwartz’s needling, head-thumping “It’s Now” pushes as insistent as a full bladder. “Fallen Idol”? Kinks’ pastoral tea time, sunny Sunday afternoon. More Ray Davies awaits on the fawning “Everyone Wants to Know.” Even filler on the order of rock-up “One Two” gets perfectly sequenced, while the twee “Room With a View” unspools about as exciting as the film of the same name. Then, hopscotching “Sweet Potato” mashes all. Listen to Schwartz rattle off the line “finger-lickin gum-smackin sass-talking you know what” as the other three bleat out “sweet potato, oh sweet potato.” Spit it, Will: “Hair-hoppin flip-floppin Candy’s kicking up the dust.” With a touch of grunge fatten, it’s two minutes 26 seconds! Best club single since the Gorillaz’s “Feel Good Inc.” Racing spokes on “21st Century” (“It’s Armageddon, it’s Armageddon”) might as well be laced with crystal meth. Bottum’s pensive closer, “What You Do,” chocks up another sad smiley face. A dozen songs in 38 minutes, same as Imperial Teen’s Nineties-defining debut, Seasick. Equally sick, The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band.
MYSPACE NEWS :
Imperial Teen are a just a couple weeks away from their fourth album The Hair The TV The Baby & The Band. It’s their first album since 2002’s On — yup, more than half a decade is quite a pause (you can get a degree faster … maybe). The four Californians are further from the wonder years, but the playful first single “Shim Sham” doesn’t suggest any cobwebs or rust. Still, there is an awareness of time’s passage: Google and some biographical facts make it clear the album title references work (Jone Stebbins owns a hairstyling joint (I do not own the salon, I just work there- jone), while the excellently named Roddy Bottum’s does scores for TV), life (Lynn Perko Truell’s a mom) and Will Schwartz’s side project willpower, but more deeply, the comma-free list also connotes watching TV and the babies and feeling your hair fall out.
There’ve been plent of other bands, too … Imperial Teens have variously played in Faith No More, Sister Double Happiness, the Dicks, the Wrecks, etc. So yeah, “Shim Sham” is a nostalgic summer fete, as Lynn intones, “at the Shim Sham Club” with the Rock*A*Teens. The fuzzy guitar, popping drums, and crystalline Breeders-style male/female harmonies shout celebration (the B-52’s with more kick), but it also feels historical, a first-person story recalled beneath “suburban lights.” The narrative involves a life in punk rock (chilling in “dirty places,” making lifelong friends); “Then and now seems like a different scene / We live to live whatever’s meant to be…” It’s fitting that the percussion shuffles like Steve Shelley in that first measure: Imperial Teen have accrued the same sort of wise distance and scope that Sonic Youth have taken on in their more silver years.
TRANSFORM ONLINE :
Brilliant minimalistic indie pop.
It’s been over five years since the last Imperial Teen record. If you spent the time off wondering if Roddy Bottum was going to return triumphantly to the sound he helped forge in the sinister and seminal Faith No More instead of crafting ridiculously catchy pop, the answer, plainly revealed in the taut 38 minutes of The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band, is a resounding “no fucking way.” And that’s just fine and dandy.
The album’s title reflects what the four members of the band have been focusing on during their hiatus. And while their outside interests might be disparate, their collective goal of creating minimalistic indie pop is a constant. And it comes through brilliantly in this effort.
Immediately, the listener’s focus is on the dynamic interplay of vocals between the male half of the band (Bottum and Will Schwartz, who also share guitar duties) and the female half (Lynne Truell on drums and Jone Stebbins on bass). While the songs are tight and well-written, they could only be pulled off with the proper vocals and the arrangement here by Imperial Teen really brings out the best in these tracks.
Opener “Everything” starts everything off in a head-bobbing fashion and contains such amazing pop sensibilities, Carl Newman’s ears probably perked up all the way from Vancouver while I was listening to it. And while the band won’t be sharing the pages of Guitar Player with Yngwie Malmsteen and Dream Theatre anytime soon, they can take solace in their ability to make a fun, albeit austere, record.
The sparse guitar leads that are especially noticeable on “Do it Better,” but appear throughout, call to mind Carrie Brownstein and some of Sleater-Kinney’s more mid-tempo tunes. But make no mistake, just because this could be classified as “indie” and “low-fi” does not mean there is a lack of attention to melody. Quite the contrary.
“Shim Sham” is so bratty and delightful, you’ll probably find yourself singing background vocals during the ebola-like infectious and fuzzed-out chorus. And while “One Two” makes you realize that the songs here have a very similar structure and sound, you don’t mind so much because the hooks are so powerful and catchiness is so unavoidable.
As the disc flies by, you are greeted with the bouncing “Sweet Potato” – which is almost anachronistic in its ‘60s glory – and the ultra-smooth “Fallen Idol,” which manages to reference both the Unibomber and Jeffrey Dahmer among the breathy girly sighs.
Ballads like “Room With a View” and closer “What You Do” are admittedly a bit of a buzzkill from the party groove so overtly flaunted here, but they are executed so pristinely that you give this talented quartet a pass.
If you think The New Pornographers just have too much stuff going on, give Imperial Teen a spin. And if you think The New Pornographers sound just great to your ears the way they are, take a listen to this disc anyway. You might be surprised at how much Imperial Teen do with relatively little.
You know those records that are generally well recieved, critically, because no one can think of anything immediately offensive about them? The new Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Luna’s whole catalogue, or Imperial Teen’s own On, from back in 2002, for instance. Let’s not allow The Hair The TV The Baby And The Band to be one of those. So consistently unhip that they’re lucky to still find themselves alternating two chords to an audience in 2007 (we’ll see), Imperial Teen have again made one of the best records of the year and again it is one likely doomed to a slew of three stars ratings and 6 out of 10/B+ reviews that don’t quite convince anyone to think twice about it. This is my one shot at amending that.
Imperial Teen are currently in the unenviable position of following up the best album of their lives, and it doesn’t help that they’ve spent five years building suspense. “The best/Is a curse,” sang Roddy Bottum near the end of On, a curiously self-aware epilogue to a record they probably knew was some next-level shit. If it’s not off the mark to suggest they got nervous, the new “Do It Better,” picks up where the “curse” left off: “Got a watch that’s made of gold/ but I think it’s getting old.” It would be pretty awesome to see the decade-on quartet addressing the quibbly culture of rock critics (“Think you like to disagree”) and throwing a gauntlet down (“Show me how you do it better”) but they’re too damn sweet for that. “Do It Better” turns out to be an admiration plea (“I like the way you dress/ I like the way you kiss,” etc.) that stops just short of being a love song with all that doubtful build up: “I like the way you make me cry.” And it’s no easier to discern a lurking sadness when the song is as catchy as “Walking on Sunshine,” all summery guitar fills and butt-simple chord changes.
Such complex tone-fuckery is nothing new for these guys, who were calling out slutty brides and kissass teacher’s pets while Panic! At the Disco were still begging for summer jobs at Hot Topic. In five years, the sarcasm has waned a bit, but nothing’s compromised their trance-pop melodies, which are solid as ever. Pulling back from On’s serrated edge, they do away with the buzzing synths and locker-gossip putdowns like “Like a dried up pot of glue/ she only sticks when she is wet,” (meow!). In favor of what, you ask? Well the title clues are four alternatives to this career, from Jone Stebbins’ dotcom-certified hairdressing business to Lynn Truell’s new motherhood, so post-rock ‘n roll maturity isn’t out of the question.
The fun part being that it’s not “post” at all; “One Two” rocks as hard as anything on What Is Not To Love, their darkest, kinda Sonic Youth-sounding album, and the irresistible “Shim Sham” is just as reliable for clap and pogo madness as 2002’s “Baby.” I’d love to hear more hooks like “So pretty! So pretty! So pretty! Oh oh oh oh!” this summer, but it won’t be a shame if no one else manages. Now besotted with prog, The New Pornographers’ new album isn’t gonna have anything as rousing as “21st Century,” or anything as lovely as the Yo La Tengo homage, “What They Do.” On’s laser keyboards make a brief, welcome resurgence on the nonsensical “Sweet Potato,” and the piano-plunker “Room With A View” echoes their previous mini-classic “Our Time,” updating it with downright euphoric moan-harmonies in the chorus, extended to the bridge for maximum pleasure. The only true surprise is a fluttery falsetto chorus from Bottum on the McCartneyesque “Fallen Idol,” which irritates on first listen only because it’s so jarring; it interrupts the string of expectedness. Third time around, you’ll sing along like on all the others, or Merge should offer a money-back guarantee.
When is the last time an alt-pop record was this blissfully uncomplicated – prime That Dog? Well, it is their second straight album (and second straight masterpiece) produced by that outfit’s sadly forgotten mistress of harmonies, Anna Waronker, and her hubby Steve McDonald (ex-Redd Kross). I can’t say Imperial Teen is any likelier to find an audience in the Architecture in Helsinki/Sufjan Stevens orchestral-indie niche, though Yo La Tengo fans will definitely feel IT’s Velvets-perfected 4/4 pound. But give these criminally ignored popmasters their due so they don’t have to run off to the plan B lives they threaten. Give them a chance to show you how they do it better.
IMPOSE MAGAZINE :
All day long, I’ve been humming the same bar of music. My friends’ patience is sorely tried by this repetition, or perhaps more accurately, by my singing. My inability to stay in key is just one of the many reasons why I usually refrain from any attempts at vocal performances, but it would seem that my defenses have been broken down. For the past few days, I’ve been listening to The Hair, The TV, The Baby and The Band. It has proved to be infectious. The melody burrowed its way into my consciousness, gnawing at me until my usual public singing stoicism gave way to random bursts of ill-advised exhibition. And for that, I have Imperial Teen to blame. But this isn’t about me; this is about the band that’s ruining my reputation.
Imperial Teen achieved brief success in the late 90s with their debut album Seasick. Their songs were featured on alternative radios and to the soundtrack of Jawbreaker. Then they disappeared. The Hair, The TV, The Baby and The Band is Imperial Teen’s first release in five years. Undeniably fun, the album seems to be daring people to tap their toes and sing along, even the sort of people who might usually consider themselves too reserved for this sort of frivolity. From the first moment lead singer Roddy Bottum (UPDATE: who shares vocal duties with lead singer Will Schwartz) counts off the jaunty opening track “Everything” to the fading of the last note of the obligatory closing ballad, Imperial Teen takes us through 40 minutes of relentlessly energetic melodies and the perfected art of the one-line chorus – and it is indeed an art form, however easily it is dismissed by a good deal of critics.
Although their verses are characterized by driven melodies, it is the choruses that are simple and easily recalled; these cheery hooks firmly dig in and stay with you whether you want them or not. Somehow, unlike most catchy pop choruses, these manage to stop short of becoming irritatingly tiresome.
Imperial Teen avoids banality by sensibly switching off the piano and the guitar as lead instruments. The songs on the album remain firmly within the realm of pop/rock, but it’s a large and wide realm: the rollicking, energetic “One Two”; the piano-driven, calmly detached “Room With a View”; the soft and beguiling “Fallen Idol”; the electrifying and slightly quirky “Sweet Potato”. Nearly every track warrants a mention and an attempt at capturing its feel with one or two adjectives, but that would be impractical. The subtle differences on individual tracks may invite comparisons to a range of other independent bands (Belle and Sebastian and The Brunettes come to mind), but it hardly seems fair to compare them to their own contemporaries, and in consideration of the overall album instead of individual tracks, perhaps not very accurate.
Instead, it would be more prudent to evaluate Imperial Teen on their own. However, be warned: should you feel the urge to start belting out the choruses, it’ll be less embarrassing to do it away from large groups of people.
It’s been half a decade, but the San Francisco quartet is finally back with another box of ear candy. Not much has changed in five years, but considering it was such a long layoff and the band has always had its own unique sound, that’s not a bad thing in this case.
“The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band” is full of the bright bubblegum pop and fun, quirky lyrics Imperial Teen is known for. Even the more reflective “Room With a View” shines with simple-yet-effective piano, a buoyant rhythm and giddy harmonies, crashing symbols and bubbling guitar. And when the band amps it up on tracks like “Everything” and “One Two” it’s a pure treat.
Imperial Teen may never have another radio hit like 1999’s “Yoo Hoo,” but that’s probably the way their fans like it; keeping the band a not-so-well-kept secret. “The Hair …” is a slightly more mature effort than the band’s earlier work, substituting a little more polish for unbridled raw energy. As their fans age along with them, that’s probably something they like as well.
ON : REVIEWS
IMPERIAL TEEN On (Merge)
After two major-label efforts that I doubt made a cent, this is unabashed art for art’s sake-a subsidized hobby, only it’s a label rather than a papa laying out the cash and expecting personal fulfillment through creative expression in return. Pop isn’t an ambition for these smart people with other things to do, it’s a discipline-the tunes strong, the beats solid, the vocals lightly yearning and pungently sweet. As if they’ve actually been listening to the radio (watching MTV, more likely), they bear down on the rhythm tracks, which I hope doesn’t mean they think the whoos and handclaps on “Baby” will get buzz-binned in this day and age. They’ll tour, fill small venues, sell some T-shirts. And to what end? The chance to make yet another album this near-perfect right on schedule, in 2005. A MINUS
IMPERIAL TEEN On (Merge)
Just out of curiosity: what did we do for fun in the summertime before Imperial Teen started making records? Ever since these California New Wave trash-pop deviants burst upon the scene with their glorious debut, Seasick, back in the summer of 1996, they have provided essential hot-weather party starters such as “Butch,” “Lipstick,” “Year of the Tan” and their Jawbreaker theme song “Yoo-Hoo.” Imperial Teen’s second album, 1999’s What Is Not to Love, became a cult classic despite getting abandoned by their record company amid various major-label shenanigans. But the Teen return fully charged with their third album, On, locking into a Watusi groove of garage-punk guitars, boy-girl vocals and the usual glut of cleverly smutty lyrics. On kicks off on a high note with the one-two punch of “Ivanka” and “Baby,” all hand claps and harmonies, but the band just keeps percolating all the way through to the end, hitting particularly effervescent highs in the bubbling hooks of “City Song,” “Teacher’s Pet” and “Undone.” On is that increasingly rare rock & roll specimen — a magnificently hedonistic party album for extremely consenting adults.
(RS 897 – June 6, 2002)
Dallas Music Guide
IMPERIAL TEEN On (Merge)
When he left metal-funk pioneers Faith No More in 1992, it would have been hard to predict the direction that keyboardist Roddy Bottum would take. This was, after all, the band that gave us the image of a flailing fish out of water paired with a piano sonata in those halcyon early 1990’s alternative music video days. But those days are long gone since the formation of Imperial Teen in 1994. Consisting of Bottum, drummer Lynn Perko (formerly of The Dicks and Sister Double Happiness), bassist Jone Stebbings and singer/guitarist Will Schwartz, they became critics darlings in 1996 with the release of Seasick. In 1999, they followed it up with What is Not to Love? and proceeded to get a swift kick to the curb courtesy of Slash Records.
But the story doesn’t end there and that is the best news for all lovers of sweet sing-along pop music considering Fountains of Wayne just up and disappeared. Merge Records picked Imperial Teen off said curb and dusted them off. Which brings us to their new album, On. Appropriately named if just for the Casios-in-the- garage blast of opener “Ivanka” alone. On previous efforts, you got the feeling that Imperial Teen were constantly alternating between becoming a T-Rex cover band or commiting themselves fully to the revival of New Wave. But it seems the confusion has cleared and they have finally agreed to become the Cowsills reincarnated in, oh say 1982 and put on a double bill with Devo. Songs like “Baby” shows the band deftly blending the four unique and talented voices they have to create a retro (in the least-cliched sense of the word) pop song that makes even the hardest of hearts want to jump on a scooter and take a trip to the roller rink. The album’s juxtaposition of sweet male vocals with even sweeter female “ooh!s” “aah!s” and “yeah!s” grab you on the first listen. But the second and third listening reveals subtle, yet imparative, keyboards that don’t overpower but instead, establish and maintain a “sweet on the outside/slightly not so sweet on the inside” mood that pervades the entire affair.
That’s not to say that these guys have forgotten to, well, rock. “Teacher’s Pet” proves that while they might have been band nerds with Partridge Family fetishes in high school, they haven’t forgotten their New York gutter patron saints, The Velvet Underground, Blondie et al. Rocking on this album sounds more like if the Rentals had listened to a little more Stones and a little less Can. This time around though, you get the feeling that these guys couldn’t restrain themselves from intricate harmonies if their mouths were duct taped shut and they were thrown into a rubber bag and put in a trunk like in one of those Hithcock movies. Album closer “The First” lets the listener down easy with what could have easily been on White Light/White Heat.
If the phrase isn’t already coined, file On under “Target-commerical-rock” at it’s finest. Even the albums artwork brings to mind those uber-cool but always tounge-in-cheek ads all over TV right now. Much like Target has every twentysomething rethinking trips to Ikea, I predict you might have to bust out your Tubeway Army albums and try to catch some reruns of The Monkees on TV Land after you hear this album. Finally, a band that does some justice to the term retro.
– Amanda Mann
Rating 8.5 out of 10
IMPERIAL TEEN On (Merge)
These guys put the F-U-N in R-O-C-K…wait there is no F,U, or N in ROCK. Maybe they put the OCK in ROCK, or wait COK? There’s definately that on this record, but since it is two guys and two girls…nevermind. Anyway these guys turn out the kind of rock that is so infectiously poppy that you find yourself singing along and bopping your head. The best music out there makes you wanna jump around the room, play air guitar and spaz out and like a retard in private. ON – totally does that, don’t say I didn’t warn you. If you’re familiar with The Imperial Teen, than you know that their last two album, Seaside, and What is Not to Love, are both jaunts into that sort of fun pop/rock/punk genre. The difference with ON is that they’ve refined their sound. Just when you think you’ve heard the best of them, they come out with this. Produced by Steve McDonald (ex-Redd Kross) and Anna Waronker (ex-that dog), they’ve managed to put their noticeable touch on this record – there’s more mixed girl/boy vocals and background “bops” and “whoo-whoos” on this record than ever before. Singer Roddy Bottum, who used to be the keyboard player in Faith No More, takes up the synths again on this record and shows off yet another fantastic facet of the sound that they can produce. I dare you to listen to Ivanka, and not be compelled to sing along. I dare you to listen to Teacher’s Pet and try to sit still. And just when you think you’re all danced and sung out, Imperial Teen show that they can be sensitive beautiful rockers (though the four of them do make one damn hot quartet when you see them play). I dare you to listen to Undone and The First…and not feel touched, and if you don’t feel touch, invite me over and I’ll touch you while you’re listening to the CD, and you’ll see what I mean. And if you’re above dares, then screw you. This is the kinda music that moves the body and spirit..testi-fah!
(Gary Mecija) top
Suite 101 – link
Picked as CD of the Month
Power pop doesn’t get any better than Imperial Teen. The San Francisco-based quartet’s third CD masterfully blends modern rock with 80s new wave into songs that pack a punch and are still danceable. The band consists of former Faith No More keyboardist Roddy Bottum, former Sister Double Happiness drummer Lynn Perko, singer/guitarist Will Schwartz, and bassist Jone Stebbins. Bottum and Schwartz each sing lead on about half of the songs, and the female harmonies really add to Imperial Teen’s sound. On runs the gamut from alternative to techno to pop to new wave. It’s a fresh, smart, and most of all, fun CD.
Barnes & Noble
IMPERIAL TEEN On (Merge)
With their hook-laden songs and smudgy-guitar sound, Imperial Teen’s first two albums, Seasick and What Is Not to Love, are cut from the same cloth. Listening to “Ivanka,” the opening track of On, we seem to be in for more of the same. Then comes “Baby,” with its goofy new wave groove — a cross between Gang of Four and the Go-Gos, perhaps? — and Imperial Teen show they might not be so easily pinned down. In fact, there’s a cool retro feel to most of the album. Some of the tracks glance back to the early ’80s, though a few peer further back into pop history, like “City Song,” a cheerfully bitter ’60’s-style trip, à la Belle and Sebastian. But, like Mike Myers dressed in velvet and bell-bottoms, Imperial Teen’s sound is unmistakable, no matter what stylistic costume it dons. Even when the band is living in the present and being itself — as on the austerely melodic final cut (perversely titled “The First”) — the music sounds fresh. “The first/is the best/And the best/is a curse,” they sing. But unlike so many bands who can’t match the artistic success of their debut, Imperial Teen remind us that sometimes the best just keeps getting better.
IMPERIAL TEEN On (Merge)
Listening to the radio these days you might get the impression that today’s kids aren’t getting enough fiber. The Calling, Creed, 3 Doors Down, Nickelback, you name ’em and face it, their singer sounds unhappy and constipated. Ah, what a pinch of bran in the morning might do! See, the folks in Imperial Teen are older and wiser. They’ve been around that block and they know the importance of eating healthy and maintaining a reasonable lifestyle. They don’t let existential angst get them all wound up in a tizzy and they sure aren’t going to let their bowels get the last laugh. Instead, they make music that represents a crazy little thing called fun. They know it’s not a good thing when it rains on your wedding day, but they also know that if life gives you mud, you make mudpies and throw ’em at people who suck. As a result, their latest album truly is “On.” It’s got that ultra-cool retro ’80s New Wave sound (which is more a result of them simply never changing in the first place than “looking back”) and you suddenly remember what it must have been like when bands looked to playing music something pleasurable and not a burden to be carried.
By Rob O’Connor