Friday, October 19, 2007

Imperial Teen: "The Hair, the TV, the Baby, and the Band" CD Review

Imperial Teen takes its time making deceptively chipper music. The lyrics, however, often provide the sour tang under the sweet surface. I was intrigued when the New Yorker described its first LP, Seasick, as "queasy pop," and despite the fact this is probably some of the sunniest music on my often gloomy shelf, the mature lyrics, intelligent themes, and sophisticated wit all burnish this collection, their fourth studio record. It goes by, as most of their albums, quickly, starting off in a Spector-ish flourish, but ending with a downbeat, melancholy tune that takes them off stage gently.

The music lacks the experimental edge that I liked on their second album, What Is Not to Love, and generally melds the straight-ahead but lower-key energy of Seasick with the polish of their third LP, On. But, overall, it's slower, lower in volume, and more subdued. I'd start, if you are new to the band, with On and then Seasick. This new LP matches these in style, but again, seems less jittery and less brazen.

The accessible, warm, affectionately old-school production, by Steve McDonald (Redd Kross) and Anna Waronker ( along with the band, heightens the band's guitar-bass-drums set-up, but Roddy's keyboards appear much less prominent than before. I found this not quite a disappointment, but I feel that the band's better served by the higher intensity tunes that allow it to stretch out rather than compress its take on indie pop rooted in 60s styles without aping the feel of the pre-psych, vaguely NYC-street styles that they blend into a more new-wave meets singer-songwriter approach. A song like "Sweet Potato" shows this off best, with lines like "She has a backstage pass but doesn't want to meet the band" and "the carpool lane's open but she's taking the bus" capturing a gal of easy virtue cleverly. Somewhere in our media empire this deserves to be a hit.

Will, singer on most tracks, has improved and has lost his Jersey whine that often marred earlier turns at the mike. Lynn's drums keep a punch with Jone's bass, and the tunes at their best, as in "Room with a View," sound instantly familiar. Glad to see the band's back after five years off; I'd feared they'd disbanded! One song, "Do It Better," sounds to me like I have heard it before on an earlier IT record! It's testimony to the band's talent that they can freshen up pop-rock, at this late stage in the genre, that recalls their influences without imitating them.

(I don't post my music reviews much on the blog, but why not? I haven't found much this year of interest anyway, and a band like this needs all the attention it can earn. Posted today on Amazon US.)

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