When last we left Imperial Teen, San Francisco's premier power-pop quartet was walking the plank off a corporate-controlled label and receding into memory on the sails of a dull sophomore effort. For anyone who thought only Fountains of Wayne made a grander, more acerbic guitar-pop album in mid-'90s America than the Teen's debut Seasick, standing on the pier and waving Roddy Bottum's quartet goodbye was no freaking fun. Thank God, then, the Teen ship noise-pop pulled up to the indie island known as Merge Records, which seems to have taken astute advantage of recent multinational roster-trimmings and created a minor pop masterpiece.
From the liftoff, announced by Bottum's "One two three go!", On is all about hooks and groove. In this context, words are rarely more than rhythmic shards, exquisitely crafted innocent nonsense to back song titles such as "Baby," "Sugar," "Teacher's Pet," and "My Spy." Flying new-wavey keyboards and hard-not-harsh guitars are underpinned by the propulsion of Lynn Perko's laid-back drums and Jone Stebbins's ever-present two-note bass; all steer this vessel with equal bravado, as comfortable at taking on Belle & Sebastian-type lush waves as they are pretending it's 1982 and they're a skinny-tie-wearing cover band. Welcome them to your port!