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The Possibilities of Making History: Imperial Teen

April 27, 2010

Imperial Teen discuss Tasha's newest post on the importance of a good strappy sandal.

Imperial Teen came out of nowhere for me. So many bands that have any sort of place on that important shelf of my fave raves have a very clear story in my head. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard The Pixies and I can tell you what it smelled like at the time. The first cassette I ever purchased was The Go Go’s Vacation, and I can tell you in detail about my mom yelling at me when I threw the plastic wrap on the floor in my excitement to open said cassette. I can tell you what I was wearing when I purchased my first Prince cassette. But, for some reason with Imperial Teen, the story is a little fuzzier. In my head, my brain does the logical thing and tells me that an old pal who was REALLY into Faith No More told me about them because Imperial Teen were the new project from Roddy Boddom, Faith No More’s keyboard player. But then my brain gets a little wonky when it vaguely recalls a tiny, one column, two inch review for the first album in some free weekly rag in LA, Seasick, which said, “noisy queer art popsters make music for getting into trouble.” Or something like that. But you get the point.

Wait. What? Get me to a record store. Right. Now.

Well, the local record shop did not stock this, but in a moment of musical kismet, that weekend, on 120 Minutes, Matt Pinfield introduced a video for “You’re One”.

I fell in instant, head-over-heels love with this band. Two somewhat scruffy but adorable guys wailing away at their guitars, hot drummer chick, hot, curvy bass player chick! Irresistible melodies! Sweet harmonies! Fuzzed out choruses that feel like you already know them! Poppy AND noisy! Head exploding with joy! You see, when this album came out, I was a bit adrift, having blown-off a big-time art school to bum around the city I was born in. I was chubby, going to community college, working at a record store, still trying to grok what being queer meant to me, and well, smoking a lot of cigarettes and partying with a bunch of other queer art school drop outs. I didn’t just identify with the music (pure pop + noise = heaven to me), I identified with the band too.

It’s a bit odd because really, Imperial Teen aren’t overtly queer. Singer/guitarists Roddy Bottum and Will Schwartz were openly gay and showed an inclination for pink button ups, but their lyrics, aside from a few zingers (“He read a magazine/The prince wants to be a queen”, “Why you gotta be so proud/I’m the one with lipstick on”), are mostly androgynous odes to lust, love, angst, and good ol’ fashioned teenage ennui with lots of non-sequiters thrown in for good measure. Despite the visuals in the video above, the lyrics could be about anybody, anywhere. This wasn’t Erasure covering ABBA or RuPaul demanding that I “Work It”, though I have a big love in my heart for both Ru and Erasure. This was a late night car ride after too many cups of coffee and cigarettes. Laughing too hard. Getting kicked out of the park. Sneaking out. Ditching class. Dropping out. Bitching about suburbia but coming home to bed and a fridge full of food.

Imperial Teen have gone on to make four damn near perfect albums of pure pop bliss, and those albums make me feel just as giddy as they did the first time I heard them. They’ve opened for The Breeders and Hole. They’ve topped year end lists. Robert Christgau called them “California’s indie geniuses”, and as Margot Tenenbaum says, “That’s just not a word I take lightly.” So why aren’t their homes littered with gold records and Grammy’s and the Elephant Man’s bones? Lousy timing. Seasick came out in ’96. They were too sweet for the crowds at the Hole concerts, didn’t smell enough like resin for any 311 fan that may have caught them on the radio, not navel-gazing enough for Smashing Pumpkins fans, and I can’t imagine any of those bands singing a song about their own namesake.

Sit down a spell, and have a listen. Why not?

They’ll probably keep putting out records, and they’ll probably sound pretty much the same as they did in ’96. God willing. God save the Imperial Teen.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 27, 2010 7:42 am

    Thanks for this musical tip. I’ve enjoyed pop music made everywhere from the 50s to now and they sound both familiar and yet totally out of place in any of those eras. It’s a shame that originality and coloring outside the genre lines too often keeps a band stuck at indie status. They’ve got a great sound!

  2. IrishUp permalink
    April 27, 2010 10:21 am

    I really enjoyed the vids, and now must write them down for the next time I’m in Newbury Comics.
    It’s great to see they’re still hanging in there; the lack of breakthrough maims and kills so many other indies (like the Pixies, alas).

  3. April 27, 2010 11:39 am

    This was a late night car ride after too many cups of coffee and cigarettes. Laughing too hard. Getting kicked out of the park. Sneaking out. Ditching class. Dropping out. Bitching about suburbia but coming home to bed and a fridge full of food.

    Yes to all of this. Imperial Teen occupies the same space in my indie heart as Matthew Sweet and The Beautiful South. This was so lovely to read on a snowy April morning.

  4. April 27, 2010 12:04 pm

    I haven’t heard this band, I don’t think! When I’m not at work (no speakers and headphones make it obvious I”m just fucking around) I’ll click the link and listen.

    Thanks for introducing me to new music AGAIN, Spoon!

  5. evmaroon permalink
    April 27, 2010 12:37 pm

    I love that you have recollections about music like most people only remember JFK or the Challenger. The way you describe them, they sound like Sloan. Now I have to check them out!

  6. April 28, 2010 9:54 am

    Everett, I don’t know what Spoon would say, but I think it’s an apt comparison, albeit with a bit more crunchiness (as she would say).

    They are really great.

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