Folks who are getting together the CDs for their summer beach trip will probably want to toss this in along with their Sloan, Weezer and Ashley Stove, although Imperial Teen's catchy, sing-along tunes rely more on synth grooves than guitar chops. This San Francisco quartet's first Merge release is full of three-minute wonders worthy of the late local band Gerty. A cute gang of guys and gals, the Teen manage to keep the hyperkinetic energy of '80s New Wave without the saccharine toxicity that poisoned that movement over the long haul.
The first track, "Ivanka," lays out the band's style: While the pacing varies from song to song, the tempos within each track stay almost exactly the same. Imperial Teen rides the same rhythmic lines they start out with all the way to the end, relying instead on changes in volume and intensity to create their sound. It's the sort of thing that's hard to ignore once you notice it, and, since the songs only run a couple of minutes, it's a minor drawback. But the female harmonies on "Sugar" are infectious, and lyrics like "go to an ashram/go back to school/let's go undercover/where we can be safe from society's rules" (on "City Song") belie a coy intelligence that contrasts nicely with the unpretentious bop of the music. On "Million $ Man," they even manage to channel the lighter side of Clinic. The closer, "The First," is a more musically complex, emotionally sincere song than the rest of the album, making you wonder what these hepcats could do if they gave up on the perky optimism. But for this summer at least, Imperial Teen has released a disc that's as comfy and benign as the nearest stretch of sand.