Imperial Teen The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band

[Merge; 2007]

Styles: indie rock, indie pop, punk-pop
Others: Beat Happening, The Thermals, The Vaselines

Imperial Teen have always struck me as a welcomed oddity. The band came together as a side project of sorts for most of its participants who already achieved success in other SF groups (Faith No More, The Dicks, Wrecks, etc.). Their debut album Seasick reflected little of the styles they had cultivated with their previous efforts and instead introduced an intelligent, refined jangle-pop sound targeted toward the college radio airwaves. Shortly following this successful first outing, the side projects came to be a primary focus for a few years. A couple of consistently good albums later and it seemed that Imperial Teen had earned a respectable niche as reliable indie popsters. Then five years go by with little activity, and you'll have to pardon me for assuming that the sun may have set on Imperial Teen.

Happily, this is not the case, and The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band is here to prove it. The title itself makes reference to the new "side projects" that have taken priority in the respective members' lives, including running a hair salon and raising a child. And the theme of adult responsibility is not relegated to just the title or the title track; it recurs throughout the album. Half of me wants to applaud them for being so lyrically honest about their current lives, but the other half questions why the music has changed so little to accommodate the lyrical shift. Earlier albums emphasized probing the tensions surrounding identity politics, and the slightly detached vocals and deranged punk sound combined to make the cynical and biting commentary believable. Now, it's like complacency has swept over the band, making their musical approach sound more rote than artful.

But what saves the album from musically becoming a boring, going-through-the-motions exercise is Imperial Teen's ability to write good hooks. Not every song is a humdinger, but tracks like "Shim Sham," "Room with a View," "Fallen Idol," and "21st Century" outweigh the slighter efforts. There may be a sequencing miscalculation, in that the second half of the album seems unfairly stacked with the best material, but overall, The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band will likely be welcomed by their fans. While the album is unlikely to be a beacon for new hordes to join the ranks, maybe at this point in their lives, Imperial Teen is content with those they already have.

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