Dancing Like There’s No Tomorrow
Cheeky indie-poppers Imperial Teen have a simple request for you, encapsulated in their fifth album’s name: Feel the Sound. The San Francisco-based group, which counts Faith No More’s Roddy Bottum among its members, aren’t so young anymore—the band celebrate their sweet 16 this year—but you wouldn’t know it from this album, full of exuberant electro-pop and bursting with irresistible energy. There’s no teenage melodrama or melancholia here, only a dedication to songs that make you want to sing along (and maybe even dance).
Symphonic synths contribute to the bright, infectious “Runaway,” starting the album off with a carpe diem spirit and radio-ready hooks. Imperial Teen excel at playing this kind of perfectly constructed pop, sprinkling upbeat tempos with classic boy-girl background vocals from guitarist Will Schwartz, bassist Jone Stebbins, and drummer Lynn Truell (see “Out from Inside” and “All the Same”). The band’s reliance on synthesizers and keyboards gives them a unique sound, as on “No Matter What You Say,” which seems both reminiscent of The Who and entirely original.
Imperial Teen don’t take a lot of risks on Feel the Sound, but there’s enough variation and creativity to keep things interesting. “Last to Know” features a bright, syncopated rhythm with staccato guitar licks playing over a jouncing bass in the verses, crashing into a rowdy chorus. And then there’s the futuristic, krautrocky “Hanging About,” loaded with atmospheric effects, vocals dripping with reverb, and ambient synth melodies. The band even venture to add strings on “Don’t Know How You Do It,” providing a nice alternative to the synthesizers and managing to sound cool without being pretentious or melodramatic.
The album takes a step back from the world of teenagers to a whimsical realm of storytelling on “The Hibernates,” a nursery rhyme told in droning vocals over simple bass and drums punctuated by piano flourishes. Of course, it’s not really a story for children, but a nod to nostalgia for a simpler time. Feel the Sound is all about enjoying music and the present, about “making tomorrow today,” as Bottum sings on “Runaway.” It’s a chance, perhaps a last chance, to hold onto that lighthearted, exultant feeling that animates Imperial Teen’s music: on the album’s final track, “Overtaken,” Bottum repeats “it’s overtaking, it’s overtaking us” in a rare moment of solemnity. Maybe Imperial Teen are growing up after all this time.