Music

Imperial Teen Are Masters of Catchy Hooks

Photo: Jonathan Grossi / Merge Records

Imperial Teen's Now We Are Timeless shows what a veteran band can do when they are locked in together. Highly recommended for fans of the kind of pop-rock that doesn't make the mainstream charts anymore.

Now We Are Timeless
Imperial Teen

Merge

12 July 2019

Imperial Teen have been around since the mid-1990s, always playing an impeccable version of pop-rock with very few frills. That's led to the band getting all sorts of sub-labels, often based on the terminology of the day. In the 1990s they were alternative rock, in the 2000s after their five-year hiatus they were indie pop veterans, and there was usually room to mention that co-frontman Roddy Bottum was gay, particularly back in the band's early days when it was actually something people cared about.

That five-year hiatus was addressed directly by the title of 2007's The Hair the TV the Baby and the Band, which was a list of things the members of the quartet were doing while not playing in Imperial Teen. A five-year gap seemed like a big deal to fans at the time, but since then the band have become a decidedly part-time project, with another five years passing before Feel the Sound appeared in 2012. And for those counting at home, it's taken more than seven years for the new Now We Are Timeless to arrive. Imperial Teen now get together when they feel like it, with day jobs and other gigs (Bottum took a couple of those intervening years to get his other band, Faith No More, back together for a new album and a world tour) taking up the bulk of their time.

Musically, Now We Are Timeless continues in the same pop-rock vein the band is known for, but what struck me this time out was the diversity of the songs. There are ten songs on this album, and each one is its own thing, and each one is good to great. The de facto title track, "Timeless", comes last, and it's an ambling, synth-soaked ballad that's defined by its constant, gentle ride cymbal and falsetto lead vocals. Those elements give it a resemblance to the 1950s hit "Earth Angel", but the downbeat bridge echoes gentler 1990s alt-rock and the hollow body guitar solo puts it right back into the 1950s, or in a Badly Drawn Boy song from 2000. That shifting sensibility is pretty appropriate for a song with the refrain, "Now we are timeless."

The album's second song, "We Do What We Do Best", is particularly interesting. With its loping, stadium-ready beat and repeatedly chanted title, it sounds like someone from the band said, "Hey, guys, I went to see Bohemian Rhapsody, and I was thinking about 'We Will Rock You' and then, Roddy, I was remembering how Faith No More had 'We Care a Lot', and I think we should do our own take on that kind of song." But Imperial Teen are too experienced to just rip those songs off, so it's three minutes of rhyming non-sequiturs plus a big chorus where everybody gets to sing "It's only natural / It's only natural / Good times!"

Every song on the album has catchy bits, but the biggest hook might come on "Parade". It's essentially a march, with the band almost all playing in unison on the downbeats. Bottum's vocals are striking here because he stays in a low register for the entire song. That allows him build nicely to the upbeat musically but downbeat lyrical refrain "I miss the way you rain on my parade!" The march and refrain are two sides of the same big hook that goes throughout the song. In contrast, the Postal Service-like opener "I Think That's Everything" piles on the different hooks. The tinny synth drums start it off, and a quiet bloopy synth riff shows up every time the singing is absent. Bottum sings solo for the opening verse but for nearly everything else the vocals feature tight, warm harmonies. There's a bit of strummy acoustic guitar adding color here and there. Most unexpectedly, a huge analog synth pops in a couple of times to add yet another simple but catchy melody as a solo.

In other places, the band lean on the rock side of their pop-rock equation. "Walkaway" uses a simple driving guitar and bass riff and then layers with harmonized refrains of "Ahh ahh ahh ahh" and "Watching them walk away" as well as prominent electric piano chords. "Ha" features noisy, distorted guitar all over the place, but it's once again a harmonized refrain, this time "Hello / Hello / Hello / Hello" that drives the song. "The Girl" is also guitar-driven track, with a simple riff in the verses and then a traditional big rock chorus. But those last two examples are also two of the solid but not quite great songs on the album. It seems like Imperial Teen is better these days when stretching themselves stylistically.

The slinky "Don't Wanna Let You Go" uses big guitars and beats, but does it sparingly. The verses are quiet but insistent, with come-hither vocals and an urgent background guitar. The chorus of "Don't wanna let you go" is more of a release, and the bridge makes the song's lustiness more explicit. It's a sexy song and a whole lot of fun. The poppier "How We Say Goodbye" gets a lot of mileage from piano chords and drum rimshots. There are a lot of little breaks in between the beats here where the band lets there be just a bit of silence. Will Schwartz's high-pitched, nasally vocals fit this song well, and the journey to the big chorus is a good one.

Now We Are Timeless shows what a veteran band can do when they are locked in together. Even though Imperial Teen don't tour much and don't often record anymore, the songwriting and performances here are so good. They aren't doing anything groundbreaking, but this is a well-crafted record that's a pleasure to listen to, and it gets better the more you listen to it. Highly recommended for fans of the kind of pop-rock that doesn't make the mainstream charts anymore.

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."

Music

The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.

Film

Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.

Books

The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.

Music

Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.

Music

King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Music

Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.

Music

Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.

Music

Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.

Music

The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.

Music

Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.

Film

The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.

Music

'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.

Music

Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.

Books

Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.

Music

South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.

Music

Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.

Music

'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.