Sound Advice: Cult of Love by Art Imperial
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Sound Advice: Cult of Love by Art Imperial

Sixties-influenced singer makes "the consummate break-up album," and it hurts so good.

On his new album, Cult of Love, local retro-popster Art Imperial takes a grab bag of sounds from the ’50s and ’60s—doo-wop, surf rock, British Invasion pop, and Phil Spector girl groups to name a few—and creates a record that is at once heartbreaking and catchy.

Imperial’s love of ’60s sounds doesn’t make him unique: the modern musical landscape is littered with garage rockers, wannabe Beach Boys and Spector enthusiasts. What sets Imperial apart from the pack, however, is his talent as a singer. A smooth, clear tenor who is able to both wail and whisper: in an alternate universe, Imperial would be an R&B superstar.

Where many artists who borrow from the early ’60s have to resort to distortion and trickery to cover their vocal shortcomings (Raveonettes, we’re looking at you) Imperial is able to make his voice the main attraction. The title cut is particularly impressive, with Imperial sounding like the weird love child of Bobby Darrin and The Weeknd. (You can hear the title track by clicking the sample above.)

The press release for Cult of Love describes it as “the consummate break-up album,” and while that’s a pretty lofty statement, Imperial does his best to live up to it. Whether he’s wondering where it all went wrong on the doo-wop-inspired “Unlock Your Love” or reminiscing about a time when “We were content to be sad” on the surf rocking “Good Times,” he invites listeners to join him in his pain. You can’t help but sit back and wallow in Imperial’s sadness. He’s breaking your heart, but he sounds so good doing it that you don’t want the pain to stop.

Cult of Love proves that Art Imperial isn’t just a talented young vocalist and musician, he’s also an expert at balance. He’s managed to make an album that’s retro without being derivative or overly ironic, and romantically sad without being sappy. That sort of tightrope walking is a difficult feat, and Imperial should be commended for it.