When a band averages one new album every five years, as Imperial Teen does, it would be easy to assume that each release, when it finally arrives, will either be an indifferent toss-off just to keep the brand alive, or something so meticulously overworked that the simple act of listening to it results in muscle strain. Thankfully, that’s not what’s going on with Feel the Sound, the first Imperial Teen recording since 2007’s The Hair the TV the Baby and the Band. Quite the contrary, like all the best pop music, it sounds natural, effortless even; so much so that it’s hard to find an angle from which to criticize it. Can one really pass judgment on something that seems like it’s emerged, full-blown, into the world as if it was always there? You may as well put down Mount Everest because, now that you look at it, it’s a little more jagged than you were expecting.
There’s nothing jagged, however, about Feel the Sound. Whatever strains of aggression that propelled Imperial Teen’s earlier releases have been subsumed, or at least sublimated, beneath an airy cushion of keyboard ambience and two-, three-, and four-part harmonies especially on opening track “Runaway” which features all four members on lead vocals, a pretty nifty trick. Even when the band suddenly shift gears from easy lope to double-time chorus on “Last to Know,” it feels unforced and at ease with itself; indeed, it’s only the lyrics on Feel the Sound ,that give the game away. Imperial Teen has always carried its share of confusion and anguish inside its brightly-colored sonic man-purse, no doubt under the influence of bandleader Roddy Bottum, who who has faced the dual challenges of coming out as gay (which he did in 1993) and having a name it’s difficult to say without giggling. So song by song, the cheerful façade of Feel the Sound slowly crumbles on tracks like “No Matter What You Say” gradually giving way to the ravages of age, time and shorted-out interpersonal connections, and bringing us a world in which every loving cup is half-empty, not half-full. By the album’s last track, “Overtaken,” the fight’s gone out of the band – the end is nigh, so let’s get together, if only so we can jump in the river holding hands.
So where do we go from here? I expect we’ll find out somewhere around 2017.