Ripcord Reviews: Japandroids – CELEBRATION ROCK

Coming off their infectiously energetic debut LP, Post-Nothing, Vancouver rock-revitalizers Japandroids aim to continue their frenetic take on punk anthem-building with their anxiously-awaited followup record, Celebration Rock. Is this the aptly titled opus that will push the two-man act past their noisy, angst-y cradle, or a sophomore misstep that keeps the boys in song-writing safe-zones.

You have no idea how right this picture is.

Let me get this out of the way (before my preface has me playing the part of critical waffler): part of Japandroids’ undeniable charm, as evidenced on their fantastic 2009 debut, Post-Nothing, is their heart-wrenching appreciation for simplistic and yet brutally energetic anthem howling. Did it matter that the majority of their first LP’s songs were predominantly composed of two or three lyrical lines shouted out over guitar-blasts and a sea of cymbal crashes? Not really: the album was so enticingly rapturous, it was hard not to smile or sing along or make it a permanent iPod fixture (guilty on all accounts). It also helped that these Canadian dudes put on a hell of a live show, complete with heavy duty fans to blow Brian King’s hair around. It was definitely the most fun I’ve ever had a small venue show, and probably any show I’ve ever been to. So yeah, I’m impartial to these guys, but that impartiality is warranted by the undisputed air of grandiosity and genuine passion Japandroids pump into every two-minute explosion of noise-pop genius they pump out.

Now that the disclaimer’s out of the way, we can approach the topic at hand: Celebration Rock. The band’s second LP has been self-described as a significant maturation marker on King and drummer, David Prowse’s, songwriting skill-sets, particularly in the lyrical department. We’ve actually seen evidence of this popping up over the past few years anyways, as the eponymous track on the Younger Us 7″ delivered some of the most poignant punk-rock lyrics this side of the apolitical sphere since the mid-80’s. When King wails “Remeber that night you were already in bed/said ‘fuck it’, got up to drink with me instead”, what’s amazing is that you do: between the sonic assault and King’s engagingly familiar voice crying out for raucous abandon, the collective experience of being a twenty-something cascades over that four-second musical peak and suddenly everything is relative. Deep, I know…

But all existential yahoo-ism aside, Japandroids are one of those rare acts that truly manage to pack a decade’s worth of life-experience into three minute rock songs, a skill they aim to utilize for the full 35 minutes of Celebration Rock. Where Post-Nothing was an album built as much on dynamism as it was on beat-to-sh!t drums and hammered guitar riffs, Celebration takes Japandroids down a decided path to full-frontal sonic assault. From the time that familiar blast of distortion kicks-in about a minute into “The Nights of Wine and Roses”, the band maintains a breakneck pace and volume all the way to the exuberant (and appropriately titled) finish of “Continuous Thunder”. And, unlike similarly energetic moments on Post-Nothing, here each headbanging piece feels fully crafted: the lyrics are exponentially more literate across the board (“The House that Heaven Built”), Prowse tightens up his game, and King mercifully spares us from another “Crazy/Forever”. The results are decidedly poppier, but in a good way: Japandroids were always at their best live when a crowd could bounce around, crying out lyrics with King at the mic like a club-bound echo. It’s the kind of record that plays like a bar-scene performance where you buy the boys a round of Jameson for the times and sweat and tinnitus.

Oh wait: been there… done that…

So, while Japandroids haven’t taken drastic steps away from their debut’s relentless rock n’ roll rampart, they have managed to hone their craft in a way that evolves previously unrefined facets (lyrics, musicianship) into sharpened sword-points of fuzz-blasted bliss. Enormously rewarding, energetic, and talent affirming, Celebration Rock offers a musical rarity these days: the feel-good record that won’t find its way into a Glee episode (if there is a god, thank him). So do yourselves a favor: go out, find the record, put $10 on the counter and the LP on whatever you have to play it with, and crank the volume to max. You’ll appreciate it later.

Crack Tracks (courtesy of Soundcloud):

“The House That Heaven Built” (Celebration Rock, Polyvinyl [2012])

Records in Review: Cloud Nothings – “Attack on Memory”

Hard-working, hard-rocking indie outfit Cloud Nothings return with Steve Albini-produced Attack on Memory. Is front-man Dylan Baldi ready for “serious” songwriting?

"Attack on Memory" (2012) - Cloud Nothings

One of the more auspicious young indie-rock acts of the past three or four years, Cleveland’s Cloud Nothings have made a name for themselves with a feverish energy that surges through each of their punky-pop songs. When the band’s eponymous sophomore LP dropped on Carpark Records last year, front-man and songwriter Dylan Baldi generated some impressive buzz for the catchy tunes and searing riffs that drove the album to the top of many “Best of”-lists in 2011. Despite not even being out of his teens, Baldi was quickly rising to the forefront of indie rock’s most prized and promising talents in an age where the guitar-based music of yesteryear was giving way to throwback chillwavers on synths and samplers.

As evidenced in both 2009’s killer comp Turning On and last year’s S/T effort, if there was one thing Baldi knew how to do extremely well, it was write energetic and engaging guitar-pop. So when I got my first listen to Cloud Nothing’s new, Steve Albini-produced “No Future/No Past”, I was a little befuddled. Trading directed, understated songwriting for ventures into instrumental and structural experimentation is one thing, but trying to pull off a five-minute long, slow-burning angst-fest is something completely different. The songwriting was one-note and repetitive to a fault. Within half a minute of this single, I was already skeptic about the direction one of my favorite bands was heading in.

Fortunately, Cloud Nothing’s third full-length, Attack on Memory, isn’t quite the disappointment “No Future/No Past” teases at it becoming. Sure the album starts on a meandering note with both the previously mentioned misstep and “Wasted Days” (which, at a grating and repetitious eight minutes, is a coincidentally telling song title), but energetic and tightly composed tracks like “Fall In” and “Stay Useless” are kept short and fiercely performed, catering to the band’s strengths. Instrumental “Separation” hints at a solid marriage between the pop gems of the group’s finer work and Albini’s noise rock-leaning influences, but fails to rise to the occasion mainly because of a distinct lack of Baldi’s vocal presence, which, despite his recent turns to whiny-ness, often counteract the tedium endured through the rest of the piece’s three minutes. “No Sentiment” plays like “No Future” should have: a minute and half shorter with a chorus to break up the monotony.

Just gimme Indie Rock!

Luckily, Attack ends strong: “Our Plans” and “Cut You” are easily the most memorable tracks of the outing, highlighting Baldi’s ballad-sense and riffage. That said, the songwriter’s questionable choice to focus his talents on brooding, lumbering pieces like he has here spotlight a level of immaturity in his talent. At 20, Baldi has plenty of time to write dark pieces on love-lost and hopeless, dire situations. For now, though, he should be focusing his skills on doing what he does best: writing from the standpoint of a youthful musician with the world in his corner and buzz in his pocket. Save the tears for another four years and bring back the energy I fell for back in 2009!

Stand-out Track: “Stay Useless” (mp3)

*Bonus! Probably still the band’s best track: favorite tune of 2009!