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Imperial Teen



Since 1994, San Francisco's Imperial Teen has been in the business of demonstrating to the world why the three-minute pop song ranks among mankind's crowning achievements. Though they've often gotten more attention for their members' past projects than for their music itself -- the band was founded by Roddy Bottum, who used to play in the legendary Faith No More, and Lynn Perko of Sister Double Happiness -- that's begun to change, thanks to their consistently thrilling and enjoyable output. You could call what Imperial Teen does garage-pop; this band sees no shame in inundating their listeners with hooks and melodies that are catchier than any virus known to man, but does so in a high-voltage, full-throttle manner you might expect of less tuneful styles of music.

Imperial Teen's members take turns singing, boys and girls alike often opting to do so in a breathy, silly-sexy sort of way that raises the excitement stakes. This vocal style fits nicely with the band's tight instrumental package, which features lots of spiky keyboard lines and alternately goofy and spooky synth effects, plus crunching, delicious guitars and satisfyingly full and energetic drum lines. It's an overall approach that taps the appeal of early '80s bubblegum synth-pop, The Ramones-style pop-punk, and classic garage-rock, while managing to be utterly distinctive. Few bands since the Pixies have managed to make pop music this simultaneously original and catchy.

The wry lyricism and bouncy textures of the quartet's 1996 debut Seasick earned them numerous critical accolades ("We were the Strokes of '96," jokes keyboardist/guitarist Will Schwartz), one or two comparisons to The Breeders, and a few bemused remarks about the guy from Faith No More's new band sounding so decidedly un-Faith No More-like. Their next-big-thing status was short-lived though, so their solid 1999 follow-up, What Is Not to Love, which returned to the winning formula of their debut while adding a slightly darker, more jaded edge, fell largely on death ears. After it, Imperial Teen escaped their major label purgatory and fled to Merge Records, who released the band's outstanding third record, On, which continued to improve on the hummable fun of the previous two with more complex song structures and a wider range of flavors and moods.