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There’s a fight brewing on the interwebs, pitting generations of indie rock against each other. On one side is Carrie Brownstein, former member of Sleater-Kinney and NPR blogger, who favors the aggressive, punk take on indie rock that’s been passed over by allegedly toothless, safe indie rock over the past decade. On the other side is Michael Azerrad, famous chronicler of ’80s American indie rock with Our Band Could Be Your Life, who recently wrote that agro-punk has become passé and the real progressive and intelligent artists are those that have come to define indie rock today.
So who’s right? Well, it’s all a matter of opinion. But one current band that both Azerrad and Brownstein would probably enjoy is D.C.’s Imperial China. On the band’s debut full-length, Phosphenes (Sockets/Ruffian), the local trio shows that challenging indie music can be crafted with plenty of teeth, heart, and aggression without sacrificing content or creativity. Here, the group manages to reshape the kind of aggressive, angular riffs indicative of classic ’80s post-punk into a swirling, mathy, and electronically inclined mix that stands strong at nine tracks .
Though combining punk rock with electronics was once considered heresy in certain circles (and probably still is), Imperial China does just that with a skill and fluidity that sounds natural. Only the most cantankerous old punk would scoff at the metallic riffs and noise-infested highs of songs like “Mortal Wombat.”
Standout track and lead single “Go Where Airplanes Go” is tranquil and dub-entrenched, perfect for new-school indie kids to groove to. But it doesn’t sacrifice the band’s penchant for complex, engaging instrumentation.
Although Imperial China wrangles a host of disparate sounds, the group also finds a central, unique voice. The chemistry between bandmates Brian Porter (vocals/guitar/bass/keys/samples), Matt Johnson (guitar/bass/percussion) and Patrick Gough (drums) seeps into every note. The group’s determination to push certain aesthetic boundaries has resulted in a record that’s endearing and complex, aggressive yet skillfully composed.
These days, the indie field is oversaturated with derivative groups trying to resuscitate a bygone era or mirror a sonic fad note for note. Rather than merely exhume the past or copy the present, Imperial China engages alternative music’s storied history as a whole on Phosphenes. Perhaps Porter says it best on the song “Invincible”: “We bring new life.”