Winter / Spring / Summer 2016
Festivals, One-offs, Regional plays
There’s an imperial team in California, a gang of four whose magic number is now five. The fifth album by Imperial Teen, Feel the Sound, succeeds completely at its goal, plainly stated in the collection’s title. read more…
There’s an imperial team in California, a gang of four whose magic number is now five. The fifth album by Imperial Teen, Feel the Sound, succeeds completely at its goal, plainly stated in the collection’s title. From the exhilarating, propulsive “Runaway,” which features the entire band on lead vocals (how many other groups can make that claim?), to the expansive final statement of “Overtaken,” Roddy Bottum, Lynn Perko Truell, Will Schwartz, and Jone Stebbins feel the sound themselves and, in turn, make the listener feel it in ways immediate and pleasurable but also lasting and haunting. Like the sharpest pop music, Feel the Sound gets you to keep coming back for more, but unlike so much music today, it rewards you for doing so, giving you the experience of a fulfilled and yet still yearning, lively potential, one that will be further realized when the songs are performed live.
Gold medal-caliber relay racing is one metaphor for the group’s approach to making Feel the Sound. Recording in bursts between busy stretches of daily life, Imperial Teen would take leave of songs and come back to them, bringing new perspectives and approaches to each incarnation; the result is an intuitive command and confidence so fully present that a track such as the richly dark “Over His Head” ends right when it seems ready to morph into yet another form of beauty. This is the rare group that not only can do such a thing but can afford to, because the next song brings another reward. Band members also share wordsmith duties, grabbing spoken phrases from each other and passing lyrics back and forth in a manner that allows songs to have more than one true meaning or story. Most of all, the collaborative spirit of the album—an Imperial Teen signature from the first notes of their theme song on 1996’s Seasick that has never been more potent and intense than today—yields a sound that feels classic and contemporary. A great vocalist once described singing as an act of being that is becoming, and on Feel the Sound, Imperial Teen become more vital than ever.
This is apparent in the energetic and abundant surface pleasures — the present-day prog pop keyboard touches, chugging rhythms, and neon-bright harmonies — of the eleven songs here. Anthemic and breathtaking, “All the Same” pays tribute to a fallen friend, while “Hanging About” effortlessly motors through a psychedelic landscape. Adding yet another layer to Feel the Sound’s title, the beat of “No Matter What You Say” is partly built from the band members drumming on their knees. ELO-like symphonic pop has become a touchstone for everyone from Justice to Cut Copy in recent years, but Feel the Sound makes it manifest through live instrumentation that possesses a Krautrock level of intuitive synchronicity and a desert island jukebox’s sense of fun. So many bands lose momentum and focus over time, but a little past its sweet sixteenth year of existence, Imperial Teen somehow grows both younger and wiser, connecting four characterful lives through creative friendship and deep trust, and forging a communal power that continues to grow stronger. Feel the sound of a one-of-a-kind group that’s never sounded more like itself.