Release Date: Jan 27, 2017
Record label: Anti-
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Noise-Rock
The Canadian rock duo Japandroids have always been equal parts precious and precocious. Their debut album Post-Nothing was powerfully lo-fi, featuring a rigid two-instrument-two-voice delivery system that knocked twee songs into the upper decks with the fury of a hardcore band. Their worldview was beautifully summed up in the band’s first epic, “Young Hearts Spark Fire”, which featured the beautiful refrain of: “I don’t wanna worry about dying / I just wanna worry about those sunshine girls.” Post-Nothing is a knowing title.
There’s something to be said for bands that have the guts to do a Dave Chapelle and just disappear, emerging again only when they’re ready, not anybody else. After the relentless tour of their second album, Celebration Rock, ended in 2013, Japandroids did exactly that; vanishing from the spotlight. Of course, this led many devoted fans to wonder what had happened.
Even when they were screaming Vancouver scrappers recording songs like "Darkness at the Edge of Gastown," you knew there was a classic rock act at the punk heart of Japandroids. On their third LP, that band is out of the closet. "It got me all fired up, to go far away/And make some ears ring from the sound of my singing, baby!" hollers Brian King on the title track.
When you've made the aural equivalent of the 100 percent emoji, where is there left to go? If you're Vancouver's Japandroids, you throw out the playbook and start over. Near to the Wild Heart of Life, the band's third LP, and first new music in almost five years, dispenses with the guitar-drums-amps-to-11 aesthetic that's become the duo's hallmark, trading them in for scale and nuance via tempo changes, an expanded arsenal of instruments and a general willingness to explore the studio as opposed to capturing what the band do live. While the pitchforks are no doubt being sharpened by those who saw the band as rock's saviours — they're not, nor have they ever claimed to be — it should be noted that the band's eternal restlessness remains, both in the music and singer Brian King's surprisingly verbose (for him at least) lyrics.
Vancouver duo Japandroids emerged in 2006 playing a blend of noise rock, garage rock and punk. Debut Post-Nothing, released in 2009, and follow-up Celebration Rock from 2012 enjoyed their fair share of plaudits; the second album in particular. Continuing their homage to the great rock ‘n’ roll albums of all-time, third collection Near To The Wild Heart Of Life persists with the eight track format, the band stating that eight songs “is the standard template for a great rock ‘n’ roll album”.
When Japandroids were recording their latest album, Near to the Wild Heart of Life, it would have been hard for them to conceive of the environment into which the album would finally be released. The album's street date is January 27, 2017, a week after Donald J. Trump will repeat the Oath of Office to become President of the United States. It's hard to imagine a more chilling example of the loss of hope so many people experienced in 2016.
Listening to Japandroids makes me think about Jenga. You have the most basic elements (guitar, drums, and vocals, in this case) delicately stacked on top of each other. The raw materials are so simple, but the more it builds in increments, the higher the stakes become; each move ratchets up the tension partly because you know the whole thing is constantly in danger of buckling under itself at any time.
Japandroids make music to feel alive to. It’s genuine and timeless, songs with big-sounding intentions that romanticize on that form of glorious surrender best epitomized in classic rock’s past. The Vancouver duo like to express things clearly and directly, and simplicity is their strength. The branding behind it is also important: drummer David Prowse is all raw talent and no gimmick, a fierce and quick percussionist who dresses for comfort; meanwhile, singer/guitarist Brian King is stylish and passionate, a rock classicist with a baby face who likes his leather jackets, and when he’s feeling like a showman, rolls up his sleeves like working-class Bruce Springsteen.
Welcome back, fellas. While 2012’s ‘Celebration Rock’ put Japandroids on the musical map, the Canadian duo’s ANTI- Records debut feels slightly less boisterous – yet it retains the same wall of noise and spirit of reckless abandon.Offering a heady cocktail of sped-up shoegaze and scuzzy, scrappy indie-rock, these eight songs see the pair once again shooting for the stars.While none quite make it all the way, they do end up nestling rather nicely among the planets; particularly the spectacular title track and the adrenalin-fueled ‘No Known Drink Or Drug’.A strong, almost special comeback. .
When the world sucks life out of you, music pushes life back into you. Usually it’s not music about life being sucked out of you that does the trick, but back in 2009, Japandroids proved that to be possible. The Vancouver duo figured out how to merge Thin Lizzy gaudiness with the callous heat of punk. When Post-Nothing came out, “Young Hearts Spark Fire” was a rally cry to stand back up, and when Celebration Rock appeared three years later, “The House That Heaven Built” did the same.
A curious footnote to pop punk’s diamond renaissance – your Da Vincis with chequered shirts and your Botticellis with Saves The Day tattoos – is its thematic indigenousness. On its residual Venn Diagram you’d find the ‘ebullient’, ‘melancholic’ and ‘introspective’ circles intersecting the ‘young’ and ‘middle-aged’ ovals with manifold indexes purveying manifold talents, a paradigm that’s survived the style’s conception. Only one band occupies the centre of the maze, cohabiting and subverting all tropes, but then Near To The Wild Heart Of Life is Japandroids’ first album in nearly five years.
Review Summary: The hangover sets in.Strangely inert for a band that practically built their brand on hurtling recklessly forward, Near to the Wild Heart of Life is the sound of a comfortable band stretching the limits of their sound and their fans’ goodwill. How many Pabst-in-the-air anthems can you stomach in one sitting? At a Japandroids show, this is generally a rhetorical question. Brian King’s infectious, vein-bulging yelps and David Prowse’s blistering skin work, the sound of a unit of artillery set off by one man, are enough to make even the most cynical child of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s unironically raise their clenched fist.
"Near to the Wild Heart of Life," new album from Japandroids. Japandroids don't do irony, so when they sing about blowing off their hometown, hitting the road and giving it all up for the elusive illusion of true love, well, you best believe them. The Vancouver duo's third album, "Near to the Wild Heart of Life" (Anti), is sometimes as overblown as its title, in the tradition of guitar-driven melodramas such as Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" or the Hold Steady's "Boys and Girls in America," if not nearly as accomplished.