Album review: "How We Connect"
By Mark Jenkins, Friday, January 27, 2012
There are moments when Imperial China sounds like a D.C. punk band. "Try as I might / I've got nothing to show for it," barks singer and multi-instrumentalist Brian Porter in "Revolter," a song whose frustration, vehemence and title echo Fugazi's "Repeater." But Porter's lyrics are not the key to this local trio, whose second full-length album, "How We Connect," uses vocals as just one element in its complex musical constructions.
The band draws on minimalist dance music and the more assertive side of British prog-rock, lacing keyboard squiggles and sampled loops into the traditional guitar-bass-drums lineup. The group's trebly roundelays and intricate counterpoint also suggest West African pop and, less obviously, 17th-century baroque music.
While the music turns wispy on some brief passages and instrumental interludes, the trio's usual mode is fast and jumpy. Drummer Patrick Gough (once of Pitchblende, a stylistically related '90s band) is an integral part of the group's sound. That style is collaborative, which is one reason the vocals aren't central. Rather than serve as a vehicle for a single person's vision, Imperial China is a tightly meshed whole. That's why every riff, beat and transition fits and why every one of them matters.