Album Review: The Imperial Sound, “The New AM”

Written by Album Reviews, Music

The Imperial Sound’s blithe synthesis of 21st-century irony and bright, unselfconscious AM-radio pop is both brave and unique. This, their debut album, The New (hence, the title), showcases songwriter Frederick Mosher’s hook-driven heritage – with influences from Todd Rundgren and Carole King to The Replacements and Elvis Costello.  They deliver infectious, shimmering songs that celebrate the craft and style of the best pop music. \

Kenn Goodman (keyboards) and Mosher (guitars and vocals) have been partners in a variety of musical ventures; from the Chicago-based Pravda Records store/label to the legendary trash-rock trio The New Duncan Imperials, for many years. In this latest incarnation, as the founders of The Imperial Sound, it puts them at the center of a group of seasoned musicians with years of experience and a drive for self-reinvention.

The twelve songs on this debut forge an immediately identifiable sound and style: songs bristling with pop hooks, taut arrangements driven by an all-star horn section, and heavenly harmonies courtesy of a who’s-who in Chicago pop. Guests on the album include Peter Himmelman, Poi Dog Pondering’s Dag Juhlin, singing legends Kelly Hogan (who I adore) and Nora O’Conner (Neko Case, Mavis Staples, The Flat Five), and Kathy Ruestow (Diplomats of Solid Sound).

Opening with “Yesterday”, the track kicks off with a ballsy brass intro; it’s an instantly catchy song about time and memory. You could make the argument that it sounds a little like Carole King but with more drive and those brilliantly deployed horn (especially the very Tom Scott-like sax solo) – and listen for the very soulful organ undercurrent. “Daylight” is taut and atmospheric on the verses, then explodes into full, lush pop with orchestration and horns on the chorus; “The Quarry” has a melancholy about it, even though it’s uptempo – a very mid-’70’s style Hi Records/Willie Mitchell-inspired moment and “Back On Your Table” is an old-fashioned stomper with chorale-type vocals, handclaps and a sense of drive, much akin to Dexy’s classic “Let’s Make This Precious”.  “Get Along!” is a very Attractions-esque piece, with pumping Farfisa and throttling guitars (think Get Happy!-era (see?)) – lively and, again, catchy; “Six To A Room” made me think about the oft-forgotten mid-’80’s  band The Truth with its keyboard and horn interplay and strident rhythm – rollicking and with an “everybody sing” vibe.

All in all, an impressive debut.  Going forward, I do hope they head into a more rock/poppy direction and use less of the horns, so the songs don’t all wind up sounding too similar.  There’s a lot of potential here and this is a great jumping off point.


The New AM is currently available