I can think of three bands from DC that Imperial China reminds me of but don’t sound like; The Dismemberment Plan, Q and Not U and El Guapo. I could also name Frodus and Black Eyes. Hell, even Fugazi would not be too far off as I listen to the opening song “All That Is Solid” with the chugga-chugga riffs and dub style bass. But Imperial China are none of these bands. Yes, they are a DC band and arguably have the “DC Sound” if we define that term to mean, they don’t sound like any of their fellows residents, but clearly they have been taking cues.
All of this was welcomed to my ears and would signal a year in DC that I had not had in sometime. Imperial China was one of a half-dozen bands that I came across this year in the Dead City that make me a bit more than just sad that I am leaving this town. DC was once had an unending supply of amazing bands that not only were big here, but toured the United States and were making waves. They all had intricate, unique and energetic approaches to making music and they all did it on their own terms. DC was a big deal, and then that shit stopped being the case and for the last half of the first decade living in DC kind of sucked.
I don’t know if the city’s punk scene can ever recover. As good as the bands that I found this year are, the kids are not showing up. There are all these small, broken off pockets. It feels like there is a lot of territorial bullshit going on. I don’t know, since I don’t tie my social life to my music life, I can’t full comment on what’s going on. It’s just the impression I get that DC is in a state of faction and it’s too bad because Imperial China are a strong band that could serve as an anchor to revitalize this town.
Phosphenes is filled with twinkling echoes, echo vocals, funky beats, guitars of loud exploding frenzy and all kinds of other weird tricks and turns. No two songs on the album sound similar or set out at the same speed or have the same feel. But the beauty of Imperial China and what makes Phosphenes so great is that the album is so cohesive. Ushered by the very caring hands of Devin Ocampo (Medications, Smart Went Crazy and produced the debut by Trophy Wife), Imperial China came out into the world very strong. The musical cues this band draws from is wide and that diversity is crafted into a unique whole.
My ultimate dream is that the bands from DC can somehow manage to navigate the interesting social circles, dissect the difficult cost of living and break out of the forgotten fog the city has found itself in. I want to see these bands play still. I want to see them in the new city I call home. Not because I will be homesick, but because of all the music I hear from all over this country, the new breed of music in our nations capital is the best, most creative music being made as it should be. Imperial China stepped into some vacant but much desperate dead air and created an album that is otherworldly. Now if they can just bring it to the world.