Music

Imperial Teen: On

Carolyn Kellogg

Imperial Teen

On

Label: Merge
US Release Date: 2002-04-09
Amazon
iTunes

Yowsa, a brand new record from Imperial Teen! Pop rock that's not saccharine, their songs are sexy and confused, dizzy and danceable, sarcastic and joyous.

In surviving to release On, their third record, Imperial Teen may be the California condor of independent rocking pop. The addictive Seasick, released in 1996 when the band was just months old, stood apart from the top-volume guitar feedback that dominated clubs and college radio. Despite their original label (Slash!) being chewed up and spit out by not one but two bigger fish, they managed to stay together as a band and find a welcoming home at Merge Records. Heck, they even continued writing fun songs that are catchy as hell.

Imperial Teen are two smallish guys (Roddy Bottom and Will Schwartz) and two voluptuous girls (Lynn Perko and Jone Stebbins) that perform with a sassy confidence. Everybody sings, but mostly Roddy and Will trade off lead. The first time I saw them on stage, in the middle of the set they all traded instruments, much to everyone's surprise -- and then traded back a few songs later. They aren't a band that sticks to traditional roles.

On is the kind of CD that revives that teenage desire to put posters of sweaty rock and roll singers up in your bedroom, close the door, and then kiss them all over. With that kind of heady enthusiasm and raging hormones, things sometimes get a little mixed up. And Imperial Teen play with that confusion without making an issue of it; they are more Village People than Phranc.

In "Our Time" Will breathlessly sings "All the girls are dressed in leather / And the boys are wearing feathers" over a thrilling rock arrangement and irresistible pop-pop backing vocals from the ladies. "You're dating boys but have a girlfriend," he croons in "My Spy", a mellow track dominated by '80s keyboards that glides like a walk home with a new sweetheart after a long night of dancing.

It's not so much about making a statement as it is about having a darn good time. Why else would the CD lead off with "Ivanka", a tribute to the recent page six party girl? Here each band member sings a stanza, the doo-doo backing vocals keep coming, and there's a gradual, tension-filled build to a walloping crescendo that leaves you panting but eager for more.

The more aggressive songs feature Roddy singing lead, with lyrics that can be sharp and pointed. In "Mr. and Mrs." he describes a couple unflatteringly then gets to the chorus "These whom I speak of are my friends . . . can't wait for their lives to begin / Oh so exciting then," certainly not something you'd want to hear sung about yourself. Yet he also has a sense of play -- in "Baby" he sings in pairs of almost nonsense words, and the band sings together "I love baby, Baby is a dog."

When Will sings lead, the songs are gentler but just as much fun. In "Sugar" (which lives up to its title) he sings simply "And I wanna take you home / Cause I wanna take you back" and as a gentle tune rises around him, single bass and guitar lines lifted by increasingly insistent drums. His mumbling, sometimes breathy singing style is positively demure, and entirely charming.

The CD itself is charming. Tricks like hand-claps and the doo-wop vocals are worn-out staples of pop music, but anyone will fall for even the cheesiest line delivered right (if George Clooney asked me "What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?" I'd melt despite myself); here the background vocals make you want to sing along, and the handclaps drive you to get up and dance. Under it all the keyboards work like a guide, sometimes stiff as an '80s synth, others as woozy and swooping, and once a jaunty piano.

In On Pop and rock come together in a way that is just the most absolute fun. Imperial Teen is delightful with just enough bite; danceable without having to count beats per minute; ready to have as much fun as you are. In some oddly good way, Imperial Teen are stuck in adolescence. It's enough to make you want to wear braces and kiss posters of Adam Ant when nobody is looking.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

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.