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])

Review: Guided By Voices – “Let’s Go Eat the Factory”

Let's Go Eat the Factory (2012)

Let's Go Eat the Factory (2012)

The original line-up of lo-fi luminaries Guided By Voices have produced their first album in nearly 20 years. Does it live up to their own massive legacy?

The boys at Penn's Landing (down in Philly)

For a line-up that hadn’t played with each other in nearly two decades, the Guided By Voices I saw this past summer was a tight rock n’ roll muscle-machine. Front-man and ceaseless song-writer Robert Pollard could still pull off a mean jump-kick. Mitch Mitchell still chain-smoked during the entirety of the three hour-long set. Greg Demos still knew how to rock pajama pants. And Tobin Sprout still seemed really serious when he sang “Awful Bliss”. The music growled the way it should have. The beer flowed freely, and the Tequila was drank heavily. For a few twilight hours, an otherwise awkward match-up of indiecentric Gen-Yers and blue-collar, middle-aged men huddled around Penn’s Landing in mutual joy that the boys were back together and rocking just as hard as ever.

Pollard fueling up...

When I heard GBV was making a new record (a first for the original line-up since 1996’s Under the Bushes Under the Stars), I knew it was going to be amazing. These were the dudes who pretty much established the lo-fi rock scene and were responsible for some of the most memorable and endearingly well-written albums of the 90’s. I was even more thrilled to learn the band was returning to a 4-track sound, something Pollard had set aside (along with most of the original band members) in the latter half of the group’s career. With the prospect of becoming a worthy followup to Alien Lanes or Bee Thousand of the 21st century, Let’s Go Eat the Factory had a lot riding on it from the very start.

Rocking into their mid-50s...

The band’s 17th record starts off promisingly enough. The raucous growl of “Laundry and Lasers” recalls some of the driving rockers of the group’s late-80’s records with youthful energy rarely heard from dudes teetering on senior citizen status. The following set of songs are classic GBV affair, short and sweet, if somewhat unassuming: as passable as these mini-ballads may be, they lack the pop-y punch of their progenitors on earlier albums. “Spiderfighter” is something of an enigma: though it starts with a classically distorted, repetitive riff it abruptly collapses into a piano-based finale. While this thoughtful second half of the song aims for emotional peaks, it’s jarring transition mars the final product. “Hang Mr. Kite” relies far too heavily on ugly Moog compositions where guitar-based attacks are clearly needed.

Hard at work?

Still the record finds footing on certain stand-out tracks. “God Loves Us” is fantastically anthematic and “How I Met My Mother” recalls some of the better burst-rockers of the band’s stand-out records. “Waves” showcases Sprout’s writing capabilities, as well as the band’s flair for eccentric sound manipulation. “Chocolate Boy” stands amongst the best balladry Pollard has produced in 20 years. If not for some head-scratchingly weird underwater-esque vocal-distortion and volume manipulation on “Cyclone Utilities (Remember Your Birthday)”, the song harks to the better aspects of the badass-ery in classics like “Hit” and “Hot Freaks”. The finale, “We Won’t Apologize for the Human Race” is both the record’s longest track and most intriguingly realized, featuring full breakdowns and an evolving composition rarely seen in most of the otherwise dwarfed songs of Factory.

At least they still kick ass live!

Unfortunately, despite the occasional standout, Let’s Go Eat the Factory is less of a triumphant return to a band on the top of its game than a struggle to re-adapt to the genre they were birthed in. While GBV have adequately mimicked the lo-fi sound they are famous for, they have as of yet to prove they can write a truly memorable song fit for the new century. To be fair, these guys haven’t written cohesively in over 20 years, so the rust is completely forgivable: let’s just hope the next go-around they’ll be back in full-swing, offering those awesome hooks worthy of jump-kicking and drinking tequila to.

Stand-out Tracks: “God Loves Us” (.m4a)

“Waves” (.m4a)