Brian King and David Prowse’s cicada-like reemergence is an excellent new album slightly out of their comfort zone.
Japandroids already have a couple of near-perfect album’s in their oeuvre. Post-Nothing, their 2009 break through, is an adored cult classic and Celebration Rock , as its name suggests, is a triumphant, rock masterpiece. At this point, their playing with house money when it comes to critical good will, and it allowed them to adventure toward some new sounds on their brilliant new album Near the Wild Heart of Life.
There are new sounds on Near the Wild Heart of Life. There’s Americana influence and electronic textures and female backing vocals, and it’s not quite the barbaric yop of raw-nerve feeling of Celebration Rock or the distorted, lo-fi “newgaze” revelation of Post-Nothing, but it is obviously a Japandroids album.
On Near the Wild Heart…Japandroids finally sound as big as they’ve always been to me. They have always produced irrepressible, energetic anthems that have conjured irresponsible levels of energy in me, and on the new album they sound ready to conquer stadiums.
The tug-of-war between roots and a chosen home, the reconciliation between ambition and humble beginnings and the bracing affirmation that to live is to feel are still omnipresent as are the wonderful guitar sounds that strike the perfect balance between Hüsker Dü and My Bloody Valentine and the “Oh, woah-ohh” vocal fills.
The opening title track of the album makes that abundantly clear.
It sounds as much like a Japandroids song as any song that ever was and serves as sort of an origin story of a band that started in rural Canada before calling Vancouver home and later splitting time in Vancouver and New Orleans.
It’s also a carpe diem mission statement about acknowledging your dreams and being bold enough to attempt to realize them
The next song, “North South East West” manages to sound like “Ain’t that America” and “When You Were Young” but still be completely awesome despite some serious mawkishness and corny lyrics. They actually shout N-O-L-A, USA at one point, and I don’t hate it. This is definitely the Japandroids’ road album, and it’s fun to hear a couple of Canucks grapple with the immensity of the North American continent.
“True Love and a Life of Free Will” is a pretty wonderful, understated song about two wild people finding a love that works for them and the adorably titled”I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)” sounds like a throwback to 2009.
“Arc of Bar” is a slow-burning, seven-minute epic that features electronic textures and crescendos to a gospel conclusion. It’s very different, but it’s still very easy to pick out the shimmering, chugging guitar in the background and feel like you’re in familiar territory.
The album is very heavy on King, but “Midnight to Morning” gives Prowse a chance to handle lead vocals, and he does a great job. It’s got a fantastic, roaring guitar texture that makes its four-minute-plus running time seem completely justified.
“No Known Drink or Drug” has a real “Evil’s Sway” vibe, but with “sha-la-la” backing vocals that I don’t think I’ve heard before. It also further drives home what a love letter the whole album is to the American South, specifically New Orleans. The lyrics, “We ward off the weather with a witch’s brew of dominoes and prose and Delta Blues,” really make their past Gun Club cover make a lot more sense.
The album closes with “In a Body Like a Grave”, which brings Japandroids to a perfect 3-3 on album closers. It boasts an uncharacteristic jangly guitar that contrasts nicely with what is otherwise a meditation on the way life beats a series of imperfections into our being until we die and the way every pleasure can also hurt.
Religion, school, your hometown, love, simply living and even the life-giving sun are all painted as omnipresent, utterly necessary evils that rob us of our innate mint condition.
I really and truly cannot imagine any other band describing life as basically a slow demise in a flesh prison with such conviction and feeling as to actually make the universal sentiment an affirmation. “It’s all in a lifetime and all in a body like a grave” should be the most fatalist, yet wonderful chorus of the year as long as Titus Andronicus don’t have a new album in the works.
This is super accessible, slightly weird Japandroids, but thoroughly excellent. If I had to rank each of their eight-track-long releases, I’d slide it right between Post-Nothing and Celebration Rock with it trailing the latter by just a hair.