Japandroids-Celebration Rock (2012, Polyvinyl)
I first heard Japandroids after their 2009 debut Post-Nothing was heavily plugged by Pitchfork (of course). Like most music I listen to, I first decided to give it a shot because I liked the band’s name. At that time, my ears were unaccustomed to the lo-fi sound, and my reaction was something along the lines of, “iT sOuNdS lIkE tHeY rEcOrDeD tHiS iN tHeIr GaRaGe!” Which I new realize is part of the point. Despite my confusion, I liked the stripped-down, high-energy feel of songs like “Young Hearts Spark Fire” and “Wet Hair.” I forgot about Japandroids for a few years after that, until Celebration Rockwas released in 2012 to a ton of hype, even getting write-ups in publications like the New York Times. Not bad for a band that had actually decided to call it quits before its first album was released, first deciding to remain together just for a few shows and then, after wildly positive feedback, for two years of extensive touring. I picked up the CD and it quickly became my go-to driving album, soundtracking frequent late night tours of the PA turnpike. I’m going to keep this write-up short and to the point, just like this album and this band.
I think of a certain interview with the late author David Foster Wallace when I listen to Celebration Rock. In this interview, Wallace talks about “the problem with irony” (along with a number of other topics) and advocates for a new kind of sincerity in entertainment. It’s easy for musicians and people in general to hide behind an air of too-cool-for-it-all detachment so as to avoid making themselves vulnerable. Japandroids’ message is, essentially, “Screw that.” Every song on the concise, 8 song, 35 minute album goes straight for the listener’s reptile brain. The stakes are astronomical; guitarist/vocalist Brian King and drummer/vocalist David Prowse aim for nothing less than complete transcendence via drinking, staying up all night, giving in to their passions, and torching their way through “southern lands” (the band temporarily relocated from Vancouver to Nashville while writing the album.) They are nothing if not sincere. King’s guitar riffs are meant to be windmilled in front of either frenzied crowds or bedroom mirrors, and I’m surprised Prowse’s arms haven’t fallen off yet. They finally take things down a notch on the closer “Continuous Thunder,” (my personal favorite) which is what passes for a Japandroids power ballad. (but is nowhere as molasses-y as Post-Nothing’s garage-shoegaze closer “I Quit Girls.”
The two Japandroids trade “whoa-whoaaaaa’s” back and forth constantly; wordless refrains seem to punctuate almost every line that is sung. King and Prowse share vocal duties; neither is a traditionally strong singer, but when you make this kind of music, all you need to do is shout and put everything you’ve got into every line. Lyrically, Celebration Rock is a major step forward from Post-Nothing. King has mentioned that Malcolm Lowry’s writing in Under the Volcano was a major influence on his lyricism on Celebration Rock. The heightened lyricism gives the album a more polished feel than it’s predecessor, despite its lo-fi sound and spare instrumentation. When I made mention of the Wallace “irony vs sincerity” interview earlier, I didn’t mean that Japandroids don’t have a sense of humor. The first line of album opener “The Nights of Wine and Roses” is a classic: “Long lit up tonight/And still drinking/Don’t we have anything to live for?/Well of course we do/But till they come true/We’re drinking.” This encapsulates the spirit of the album: there’s gotta be some grand meaning in all of this, and if we drink, smoke, and generally live hard enough, we might just find it! Listening to this album makes one inclined to give it a shot…maybe when I retire….
Here’s a link to the Wallace interview for anyone interested (it’s lengthy but worth watching): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GopJ1x7vK2Q