Japandroids – Celebration Rock (Rating 4 out of 5)
In their Progress Report interview, and in this Pitchfork interview, the two fairly unassuming late-20s dudes in Japandroids talk a lot about how they love touring and hate recording. Touring the world, for two guys from Vancouver who’d never had the chance, was a revelation, and so they went into the studio to record Celebration Rock just so they’d have an excuse to spend another couple of years on the road. The band had almost ended a ton of times, because they’d come close to breaking up around the time their 2009 debut Post-Nothing came out or because a perforated ulcer seriously threatened frontman Brian King’s health. So it was a fucking miracle that they got to meet people and play this music across the world, and they couldn’t wait to do it again. I like to think that I can hear that mad urgency in Celebration Rock. It’s an album that needs to exist so that the people who made it can return to this improbably glorious life, and it sounds like it.
Japandroids have also talked a bunch about how songwriting doesn’t come easily to them and how each song requires serious work, and you can hear that, too. Because virtually every moment on Celebration Rock seems calibrated for maximum punch-the-air-and-scream-along potential. Like that part on opener “The Nights Of Wine And Roses” where King belts out, “We yell like hell to the heavens,” a mid-song pause stretches out, and then “Hey!” when the instruments rush back in. Or this one from “Adrenaline Nightshift”: “Death’s got no respect for love and you’ve no respect for meeeeaay!” This is big, messy, emotive, heart-on-sleeve rock, every hook coming on like a headrush so extreme that you can’t even see.
I thought Post-Nothing was a reasonably fun bit of ’90s-indie pastiche, but the band didn’t really click with me until the 2010 single “Younger Us,” a tunefully feral burst of sentimentality from two guys just barely old enough to be feeling that ache for the first time. Celebration Rock, it turns out, just builds and builds on that feeling. It is music for drunkenly hugging your best friend, and maybe for crying while doing it. It’s great stuff.
Celebration Rock isn’t a particularly boundary-shattering or ambitious record, but it hits a primal chord with me like no album since Titus Andronicus’s The Monitor — obviously-smart guys writing big, dumb hooks, recording them to sound big and dumb and unstoppable. They deliver hooks like gigantic enthusiastic puppies show affection. With its eight songs rocketing by in 35 minutes, it works as a compressed machine-gun burst of raw-nerve energy and feeling. There’s one cover here, of the Gun Club’s “For The Love Of Ivy,” and it’s be pretty easy to play spot-the-influence with the rest of it. But that would be beside the point, since this isn’t an album about music; it’s an album about need and immediacy and getting shit off your chest. There’s no holding it back.
And the most reserved and quietest track here, closer, “Continuous Thunder,” shows that there’s plenty more to the band than enthusiasm. In that Pitchfork interview, they talk about how they wanted to write one song that wasn’t straight-up “blitzkrieg,” to see if they could make something less epic. Well, they can’t. Instead, they made something even more epic and resonant than anything else they’ve yet come up with. And if they’re capable of writing a song like that as a thought experiment, it’s almost scary to consider how great they could become if they can force themselves to keep recording albums.