Imperial Highway

Imperial Highway

What is a lo-fi band? 

This was my first thought upon receiving the assignment to review the self-titled album from Imperial Highway, a San Francisco based musical outfit which markets itself under that same description. 

My ignorance toward this particular genre required research of not only the band and its music but also lo-fi music as a whole. So, before we journey into the album’s review, I’d like to spend a few lines on what lo-fi music is exactly. Learning about this style was truly eye opening and I’d like to explain for those of you, who like me, were unaware of what it means to make this kind of music.

According to the Oxford Dictionaries official website, lo-fi is defined as “(Of popular music) recorded and produced with basic equipment and thus having a raw and unsophisticated sound.” In other words, what this means is recorded compositions of a low-fidelity or low-quality production.

Lo-fi bands are inspired by the early days of recording. A time when songs weren’t overly compressed and cracks, pops and tape hiss were expected in recordings. A time when it took experimentation to create guitar effects rather than software plugins. A time when tracks were edited by cutting and splicing pieces of analogue tape with razorblades.

The site allmusic.com reports that this sound became popular in the ‘80s and since has become synonymous with musicians whom prefer using four-track recorders rather than the latest technology. The Strokes, Beck, and Liz Phair are a few of the more well known artists considered to fall into the lo-fi category.

As far as the sound of Imperial Highway’s album, it’s clear that the duo has a respect for this genre. The band’s CDBaby profile informs that the album was “Recorded at a variety of random West Coast locations on thrashed guitars, old drum kits, and whatever instruments were on hand.”

The track Nothing But Time opens with a basic drumbeat and the guitar part comes in screaming of ‘70s psychedelic cheerfulness. However, it seems highly likely that some sort of vocal effect is being used. The vocals give off a jet-plane flanger sound. This is a particularly thick sounding effect that is used throughout the album. The use of this technique gives off a bit more of a contemporary sound than expected.

The guitar in the intro to Wide Open Road appears to be filtered with a combination of low-pass EQ and telephone effect. A spacey, siren-type effect is added in as the verse begins. The same thick sounding vocals previously mentioned are used here.

A fair comparison to Roll of the Dice I feel is Are You Gonna Be My Girl by Jet; both songs feature a similar strumming technique and are built around one main chord

Daydrift is a two-minute instrumental that slips the listener into a trance of easy listening.

Lucky 13 is another instrumental that begins with the guitar sounding as if it’s underwater, another possible use of low-pass EQ is heard here, the tempo increases a half minute in and the piece breaks into a medley of trippy effects and ambient noise before returning to the underwater riff for the outro.

The next few songs, Last I’ve Heard, Rusty Dog, and Grit, feature a ’70s Rock guitar tone. Think Iggy and the Stooges and the like.

The LP’s last song, Bright Fall Day, leaves the listener tinged with feelings of optimism and adventure. “Everything’s good in the world,” the vocalist proclaims in the verse. After a little more than four minutes, the song soothingly fades out into silence.

Imperial Highway is definitely a lo-fi band. What makes this band different than The Strokes, Duster, or Iggy Pop is the use of modern effects on instruments. Mark Loftin and Duke Doubleu, the band’s members, no doubt are influenced this style. However, with the use of new-age recording practices, they have created a sound of their own.

One more thing, this music is only available through Amazon, iTunes, Bandcamp, and CDBaby. I know this from an email I received from Loftin, the band’s founder and principle songwriter. So, if you want to hear more than that, you’ll have to visit San Francisco

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