This week there are two new albums arriving in just a couple days that I have yet to hear but are making me smile based on the simple fact that they exist. One, Old Ideas, is by Leonard Cohen and the other, Feel the Sound, is by Imperial Teen. In both cases, it has been far too long since I had new music to enjoy from these musicians whose styles are quite different but both impacted me at various points in my life. For Cohen, his last original album came out in 2004. That was a full eight years ago. For Imperial Teen it was 2007, so I’ve only been waiting five years for their fifth album.
Let’s start with Leonard Cohen. In my book, he’s up there in the stratosphere with Tom Waits for legend status when it comes to my attitude toward music. His voice is amazing. What it lacks in range, he more than makes up for in lyrical poetry. Some of the imagery Cohen paints through his song is staggering and at age 77 the years have worked over his voice into something akin to a treasure. As he’s gotten increasingly gravelly, my respect for his music has grown. His status both as a musical statesman and as an influential writer are deserving of the respect he has garnered. Cohen has been cited as influential by everyone from Bono to Elton John to Sting to Billy Joel and that’s just the a tip of the iceberg of artists who not only celebrate him but have even contributed to tribute recordings in his honor. He is an Officer and Companion of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest-ranking civilian order, and a Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec. In 2008, he entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was distinguished with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. He was awarded the Glenn Gould Prize in 2011.
In my own music history, I was on a quest for Cohen’s music before I ever knew his name. I discovered him thanks to the movie Pump Up The Volume. It’s a wonderful little guilty pleasure that instilled in me an early desire to go into radio as a career and turned me on to a mix of alternative music. That dream of radio eventually got sidelined as I was a bit too distracted at that age to put together a demo tape to shop around. Instead I went down other career paths, but returned to the desire to create audio years later through podcasting. Toward the beginning of that movie though, Concrete Blonde did Cohen’s Everybody Knows and I was off on a quest. I had heard the song was a cover, but in those pre-Wikipedia days it was a bit harder to track down information on songs and artists. It took me a bit of digging before I could tie that music to its original writer, Cohen (with help from collaborator Sharon Robinson).
Once I got hold of a copy of Cohen’s 1988 I’m Your Man album, I was hooked. That was in 1992 and his album The Future had just been released. I’m Your Man hooked me, but The Future (and songs like Be For Real, Democracy and Closing Time) spoke to me in ways that I think still play an influence in my life. That album cemented me to a voice I would always have in my life. So you must understand, to wait eight years for a new set of songs makes the January 31st release of Old Ideas something I’m sincerely looking forward to experiencing.
Imperial Teen doesn’t hold as deep an edge of honor in my musical life, but their sound is fun, playful and very creative. They also came to me at a time when music was playing a very big part in my life. It was a crazy time of change and their music (along with Hole’s Celebrity Skin and later Courtney Love’s America’s Sweetheart) formed a music backbeat that carved a notch in my memory of that period.
I originally discovered Imperial Teen thanks to Courtney Love and the HBO series Reverb which ran from 1997-2001. The show intermixed live music with backstage interviews and allowed you to get to know an artist a bit better than other shows of the time. Here, I tuned in for Love’s band Hole and discovered a quirky little act that I would come to know as Imperial Teen. They were touring together in 1998 when footage for the series was filmed. I would eventually purchase the band’s entire discography for hearing just a few tracks.
There is a male/female harmony to their sound that gives it a very distinct flair. Known for switching up instruments during shows, Bottum, Schwartz, Stebbins and Truell share a sound that feels fresh and a clear talent for creating lovable, alt feeling, pop music. If you are new to this band, try songs like Yoo Hoo, You’re One and Butch. Imperial Teen’s first four albums held my focus and I liked the way they put the musical elements together in a song and occasionally played against tone and rhythm to make an audible point. Their new album, Feel the Sound, also hits stores on January 31st.