Imperial Teen

The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band

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Imperial Teen's approach hasn't changed much since 2002's On -- or their debut Seasick, for that matter -- but The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band's kaleidoscopic indie pop finds them fitting into the musical landscape of the late 2000s easily. Kindred spirits such as the New Pornographers and the Brunettes have a similar flair for throwing together '60s pop, bubblegum hooks and harmonies, and slyly subversive, chugging cool descended from the Velvet Underground, but Imperial Teen have a breezy, almost blasé, way of making their words and music seem effortless. And though the album has its fair share of songs that sound like stylish, smart, but lulling background music on first listen, The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band reveals its catchiness gradually; tracks like "One Two" and "It's Now" manage the neat trick of being peppy and mellow at the same time. Even when Imperial Teen bust out the rock, as on the sassy, "hair-hoppin'" "Sweet Potato," the band does it with a unique restraint. This subtlety, and the band's fluent reinvention of pop's past, are the biggest signs that Imperial Teen are a group in their second decade. Just because this album is the work of a mature band doesn't mean that it's stodgy: "Shim Sham" could be from an older and wiser B-52's (but not too old or wise to cut a rug). "The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band," which recounts how Imperial Teen's members spent their hiatuses, plays like the Archies entering their midlife crises. The band gets even more archival on tracks like "I Love Everything," a wry homage to Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, and the excellent "Fallen Idol," a piece of meta-pop that bobs along on jaunty pianos borrowed from the collected works of Elton John, Paul McCartney, and Al Stewart. "Do It Better," which could've easily appeared on Seasick, and "21st Century," a collage of pretty melodies, artfully splattered guitars, and nostalgia for what used to be the future, dig into the more recent past (likewise, Anna Waronker and Steve McDonald's co-production credits will give fans of '90s alt-pop and power pop a warm, fuzzy flashback). Taking a five-year break would be career suicide for a lot of bands, but Imperial Teen's extended vacation was a risk that paid off: The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band is a grower full of grown-up pop.

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