It’s been a long five years since Imperial Teen last treated audiences to their giddy, high fructose power pop with On. Considering the gap between that album and its predecessor What Is Not To Love? was a substantial four years, this hiatus wasn’t all that much longer. With The Hair The TV The Baby and The Band, the band was at least courteous enough to let us know what they’ve been up to with the title of their new record. Bassist Jone Stebbings was busy with her own hairdressing business (The Hair), guitarist Roddy Bottum worked on music for TV shows (The TV), drummer Lynn Truell gave birth (The Baby), and guitarist Will Schwartz worked on side project Hey Willpower (The Band). In that time, however, it seems as if very little changed—this is still the sassy, peppy pop group that made rooms full of hip kids shimmying to “Yoo Hoo” and “Ivanka.”
While Imperial Teen has always been a bright and bubbly band to some degree, The Hair is their most outwardly vibrant album, eschewing some of their low-key sexy grooves to some degree. This is most clearly evident on opening track “Everything,” which leaps from the speakers with its mighty piano chords and pogoing rhythms. And the group seems to put forth nothing but pure joy, not to mention enthusiasm, as the lyrics would have it: “I love everything…everything that’s beautiful/ everything that’s horrible/ everything consistent and everything rhetorical.” “Do It Better” takes the buoyant mood down a bit for a classic, cool Imperial Teen groove, while “Shim Sham” descends straight into the sultry, dirty hooks that made albums like What Is Not To Love? so immediate and endearing.
Imperial Teen still works best when chugging out their pop music with a dash of subtlety. “The Baby and the Band” is a prime example, a crisp and catchy tune with an infectious riff and chorus, always balancing gently on a tightrope of “just enough.” Though some songs, like the raveup “One Two,” don’t quite sound as fully fleshed out as they could be, which is a risk you take with being an economic and minimal pop band. Thankfully, there are tracks like the melodically brilliant “Room With a View” to balance out these valleys with lovely bits of piano and hooks that dig in and refuse to let go for days. Also worth mentioning is the Bacharach inspired lounge pop of “Fallen Idol,” which comes as a bold and unexpected move from the band (and also rhymes “Dahmer” with “Unabomber”!), and “Sweet Potato,” the sassiest, hardest rocking little number on this joint.
The most remarkable thing about Imperial Teen is that the lack of fuss or pretense is the exact thing that makes their music sound so unique and enjoyable. Only occasionally does their minimal approach yield underwhelming material, and when it does, all it needs is a little bit of piano or keyboard to touch it up a bit. Considering each of Imperial Teen’s members is a seasoned pop veteran, the band itself having been around for a dozen years or so, they’ve figured out exactly what it takes to make a great pop song, and The Hair The TV The Baby and The Band shows no sign of the contrary.
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MP3: “Shim Sham”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.