Imperial Teen – Feel the Sound

written by: February 20, 2012
Imperial Teen - Feel the Sound Release Date: Jan. 31, 2012


Sixteen years ago, a two-man/two-woman power-pop group called Imperial Teen shot to the top of the indie music stratosphere with the release of their critically lauded debut album Seasick. Fast-forward to 2012, and these queer alt-rockers from San Francisco are back to deliver another sonic boom: their first new album in five years (and only their fifth studio release to date).

With each of its 11 tracks brimming with joyful verve, Feel the Sound is an invitation to forget all your cares and jam out to one high-energy, pop-rock anthem after another. Drawing inspiration from such diverse artists as Prince, Squeeze and The Who, this lively quartet (consisting of guitarist Will Schwartz, bassist Jone Stebbins, drummer Lynn Truell and lead vocalist Roddy Bottum of Faith No More) pushes all the right buttons for the iPod generation while still keeping their signature playfulness intact. Thankfully, Feel the Sound never loses its cheeky sense of fun—proving that even though Imperial Teen is all grown up, its music remains eternally youthful.

“Runaway” kicks off the album with a radio-ready hook of swirling, symphonic bliss. All four members of the band alternate on vocals, pounding out a sing-along chorus that glides effortlessly over the steady beat of drums and keys. Other toe-tappers include “Hanging About” (a heady exercise of futuristic reverb and ambient synth) and “No Matter What You Say” (a dizzy concoction of churning guitars and layered “ahhh”s). Deliciously snarky lyrics also abound, particularly on the quintessentially gay “Last to Know” (“Pumped up pecs and sticky skin/Floors unswept and walls are thin/Were you the last to know?”).

Although every song is buoyed by cheerful waves of enthusiasm, a few of them also contain undercurrents of melancholy. “The Hibernates” crafts a creepy nursery rhyme with its punctuated piano and droning bass, while “All the Same” and “Don’t Know How You Do It” mourn their lost loves with an unsettling mix of synthesizers and strings. However, the most mesmerizing track is the album’s closer: a lush orchestration of histrionic keys and warped vocals that is aptly titled “Overtaken.”

Bottum and his band mates are clearly comfortable in their niche of upbeat electro-pop, as the glossy production of this record doesn’t leave much room for creative risk-taking. Their rambunctious rhythms are charming on a surface level, but unfortunately lack the subtle nuance that could elevate their music beyond its impishly self-aware girl/boy shtick. Still, the songs on this album resound in listener’s ears long after their flimsy meanings have faded away. In the end, these spirited “Teens” have discovered a formula that works: enticing us to just let go and Feel the Sound. 

Imperial Teen – Feel the Sound tracklist:

  1. Runaway
  2. No Matter What You Say
  3. Last to Know
  4. Over His Head
  5. Hanging About
  6. All the Same
  7. Don’t Know How You Do It
  8. Out From Inside
  9. The Hibernates
  10. It’s You
  11. Overtaken