Teen-age dream

Imperial Teen sheds its skin (again) to reveal fresh genius on ‘Feel the Sound’


IMPERIAL EFFORT | With two gay male members, Imperial Teen gets away with a lot of sassy lyrics without ghetto-izing itself as ‘queercore’ rock or Pride pop.

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

Spring comes early this year — at least it feels that way with Feel the Sound, the new CD from Imperial Teen. The disc dwells in a happy pop universe that is wonderfully tough to escape from. By the 11th track, Imperial Teen succeeds in conjuring up an aural place of magic that doesn’t skimp on deep lyrics.

Sound plays with the refreshing splash of a debut album, though it’s the band’s fifth. Optimism mixes with confidence and fun beats so brightly, it made me want to take the CD to everyone I knew to ask if they had heard of “this new band” … although the San Francisco quartet has been around for 15 years. But with each album, they seem to strip away a layer that brings up a newness that demands attention.

Imperial Teen’s 2007 album The Hair, The TV, The Baby and The Band had more hints of rocker attitude with a stronger emphasis on heavy guitars and acoustic ones amid a mod-pop landscape. Here, they haven’t lost their instrumentation, but the music shines without reliance on one over the other. They do love a stabbing beat, but the melodies rise up like a quilted blanket surrounding each member (all of whom sing vocals).

The opener “Runaway” plays like Mates of State with a rapid beat and falsetto-like harmonies. Nostalgia rings from the sound as if it might play over a Time/Life informercial for some ‘70s AM radio collection, but production is solid and it keeps a modern feel.

With two gay members (Roddy Bottum and Will Schwartz), there is a strong queer sensibility to the album without becoming distractingly Pride-crazy. Maybe it’s an unfair generalization, but really, who but a gay guy would write lyrics like Pumped up pecs and sticky skin / Floors unswept and walls are thin in the ridiculously enjoyable third track “Last to Know.”

Where the songs may sound simple and upbeat, the lyrics never falter in their hooks and every single track is a delightful listen. But the hand that feeds the bark / Affidavit after dark may not make sense in “Over His Head,” but they are interesting enough to keep you listening — that’s half the battle in any pop album.

For a band with strong alt-rock roots (Faith No More, The Dicks), Sound is a beautiful surprise. Their delivery goes from gentle in “All the Same” to sexy in “Out From Inside” surrounded by rich, up-tempo textures.

Imperial Teen somehow manages never to annoy, either. Usually, an album where song after song bleeds into each other seamlessly, the repetition can drown you. Here, the band tempers the breathing of its creation. Tracks ebb and flow with rapid-fire backdrops and easygoing grooves with variations on the same beat. They didn’t strive for the “album ballad” or “the dance song CD.” Rather, Feel the Sound succeeds magnificently as a strong idea that never veers from its intentions.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 27, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Halcyon live at Sue Ellen’s tonight

For the girls

Deb Hunseder and Steph Callahan are kind of a big deal. As acoustic rockers Halcyon, they’ve opened for big time names such as Joan Osborne, John Mayer and Wynonna Judd. But they headline this weekend. The Florida-based band comes to Dallas with their harmonies intact and a taste of their queer indie rock.

DEETS: With Bad Habits. Sue Ellen’s, 3014 Throckmorton St. 9 p.m. SueEllensDallas.com.

—  Rich Lopez

1of the girls

FOLK OFF | Borofsky, far right, says Girlyman has rebounded after a health scare and is back on the road right where they like to be.

Nate Borofsky, the lone male in queer-folksters Girlyman, is just fine with his role

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

The last time Girlyman toured these parts, Nate Borofsky had a chicken fried steak at the same place they were gigging: Deep Ellum’s All Good Café.

The band has changed since then, from adding a drummer to experiencing a serious health scare. What hasn’t changed is Borofsky’s position in the band: He’s the sole member putting the “man” in Girlyman.

“Oh, I’m used to it and for the most part I kind of enjoy it,” he admits. “I think if I were in an all-male situation, I’d be a little freaked out and looking for my girls.”

The trio became a quartet with the addition of J.J. Jones last year, which made Borofsky wonder: They had gotten along just fine without drums. Their signature three-part harmonies and acoustic guitars kept the band’s sound on a joyous cloud. Would drums weigh them down? Borofsky worried fans would revolt.

“Personally, I’m very surprised how natural it all has happened,” he says. “To suddenly add a new member was a change, but it felt so easy and it feels like she’s always been with us. And the feedback was so positive. Plus, we can now go much further and have a bigger sound, yet she also plays light. It’s very dynamic.”

The band may not get as big a dinner as last time, but refreshments are likely when they play the Fifth Street Coffeehouse in Fort Worth Saturday.

Although their last album, Everything’s Easy, came out back in 2009, they enjoy staying on the road, not only to support the CD, but also to make a buck. That took a detour when bandmate Doris Muramatsu was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia late last year. CML is treatable with prescription drugs and has a high survival rate, but the band still had to scrap tour dates … and their primary source of income. That was a bump, but the band is back on track — with some caution.

“Her health has been really good,” he says. “In many ways, she’s responded really well. We’ve been touring a couple of weeks on and then off, but it’s been great with her.”

As for Borofsky, he’s fine in his testosteronic role in the band and the girls don’t get in the way if he might want to mack on a cute guy in the audience.

If only he would let that happen, he sighs.

“Honestly, I just wanna go back to the hotel room after a show.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 10, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas