In just over 16 years of existence, Imperial Teen has lived the quintessential experience of the '90s indie band that's still kickin' around. Existing on the plane of acts that could have but didn't break through to mainstream success in the era of post-Nirvana alternative clamor, the Teens avoided a lot of drama and burnout, allowing them to grow the project sustainably. Eventually, the individual personal lives of the bandmembers took priority and the space between albums grew in years. This kind of backstory usually ends with the artists turning in a less-inspired version of their younger selves, or tepid fare for die-hard fans only. Luckily for everyone, this is not the case with Imperial Teen. On their fifth album, Feel the Sound, the bandmembers sound more fresh-faced and excitable than a lot of bands just starting out. From the first notes of caffeine-buzzed album opener "Runaway," we hear the sound of a band that never left the scene more than one vying for a comeback. Continuing their tradition of power pop-informed melodies and precise musicianship, the 11 songs make slight nods to the influence of Electric Light Orchestra's over-the-top productions without actually going for an overblown orchestration. The distant feel and contained instrumentation of "Hanging About" comes closer to the clean-to-the-point-of-sterility production style of spacy Weezer side-project the Rentals. Almost every song meets somewhere between these two frameworks, with the drum-machine click of "No Matter What You Say" eventually succumbing to pristine vocal harmonies, or the pocket symphony lilt of "All the Same" rushing by in colorful waves. These highlights are glowing with sugary hooks that don't just hold up to repeat listening, but almost demand it. The rush of hyper pop crashes a little bit on the record's second half, and the background vocals that supported the songs perfectly earlier on start to feel overbearing. The omnipresent "ba ba ba" choruses on "Don't Know How You Do It" and "Out from Inside" threaten to push the tunes' summery, top-down vibes into partially finished filler territory. Even these numbers are salvaged by subtle production touches that crystallize their best moments. Understated strings volley counter melodies back and forth with the overdriven guitar of "It's You," the orchestration never sitting still long enough to lose the listener's interest. When even the less memorable moments steer clear of becoming innocuous, it may suggest they're more growers than immediate pop captivators, and further listens may reveal deeper merit. The wealth of hook-heavy pop wonders alone makes Feel the Sound a fantastic record, but the sure-footed air of confidence and self-assurance that carries the record is what truly cements Imperial Teen as more of an institution than a band. As they carve out their nook at whatever pace they choose, at this point we can rest easy knowing it's quite likely going to be great.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas