Rating: 4/5What is it about five year gaps that appeal to Imperial Teen? The quasi-super group has seen nearly every single one of its releases appear around five years after the prior one, like they’re some kind of power pop grizzly bear emerging from intense hibernation. Perhaps it’s because of the shifts that occur in the indie environment every year, where entire micro genres fall in and out of favor and sometimes being a sweet indie pop group is more of a burden than an asset. As natural inheritors to the impeccably structured guitar pop of the late, lamented Chainsaw Kittens, Imperial Teen have surely felt out of place in a time where upstart indie groups are eschewing precision production and layered hooks in favor of fuzz, nostalgic samples or ’80s drenched shoegaze and jangle.
But the thing is: great power pop songs never really go completely out of style, they just get differing degrees of the limelight. So here we are in 2012, five years out from Imperial Teen’s previous masterful return The Hair the TV the Baby and the Band, a gorgeously realized album about that most effective of hipster repellent: adulthood. Has the landscape changed since then? Certainly. 2007 saw Of Montreal releasing their masterpiece Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, while former tastemakers Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Bloc Party released poorly received sophomore efforts. Merge labelmates Arcade Fire got bigger thanks to Neon Bible, and so much of the excitement in music at the time was focused on dance culture, thanks in no small part to tremendous releases from M.I.A., Justice and LCD Soundsystem. But the key detail is that it was a year in transition, where there wasn’t necessarily a dominant trend in indie-dom outside of Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want Hail Mary.
2012 is young, but it’s not difficult to make a similar connection, as the end of 2011 similarly saw no dominant trend taking over, leaving an opening for a band of veterans like Imperial Teen to sneak into the party and put a secret smile on everyone’s face. To that end, Feel the Sound is exceptionally effective, a work that has all the confidence of a group of upstart usurpers but is paired with the patience and cohesion of wizened vets who know exactly how to accomplish what they’re reaching for. Starting the work with the should-be hit single “Runaway,” Imperial Teen immediately throws down a gauntlet of timelessness, offering up songs that could blend in with any number of points from the last four decades. “Runaway” in particular, with its sprightly keyboards and sweet spot harmonizing, sounds like the magical missing link between ELO and Fountains of Wayne.
The group pulls from less likelier influences as well, as is the case with the Squeeze/Talking Heads hybrid “No Matter What You Say” or the oddly excellent Hall & Oates meets Apples in Stereo glitter and stomp of “Last to Know.” Dreamier excursions like “All the Same” point towards an almost Scandinavian approach to pop craft, with a strict four-on-the-floor beat and gently cooed bridge even as moments like “Out from the Inside” take the thrust and swagger of peak era Cheap Trick, a group that’s as American Midwest as it gets.
Full in palette and lush in execution, Feel the Sound is as loving an ode to power pop as you’re likely to get in the 21st century. For those already infatuated with the form, it’s bound to be a breath of fresh air but for those looking for a gateway drug, it’s highly effective – modern enough to not be too jarring but classic enough to lead one down all the right paths. Not exactly a game changer, Feel the Sound is nonetheless the kind of highly professional and well-coordinated shot of familiarity and tradition that can go a long way towards defusing music fanatic burnout.