Monday, June 8, 2009

Some hearts bleed, my heart sweats

Warning: For the following review of the debut album from Japandroids, Post-Nothing, brace yourself for a deluge of analogies to other musicians/songs. Describing what something sounds like is tremendously difficult, and I’m acting under the assumption that most people don’t yet know what Japandroids sound like. In my gushing review of their track ‘Young Hearts Spark Fires’ some weeks back, I missed my mark by a longshot in comparing the Japandroids’ sound to Pavement and the Replacements. The former is particularly off, although with less abstract lyrics and more shouting ‘Summer Babe’ would have slotted in nicely on Post-Nothing. The latter suggestion is marginally closer, especially in the sloppy drunk vibe evinced by the young Vancouverites. However whereas Paul Westerberg and co. were content to fuck around (brilliantly) for 3 or so albums, Brian King and Dave Prowse seem to have taken No Age’s ‘Sleeper Hold’ as a call to arms: with passion, they have chosen.


Perhaps Ian Cohen came a little bit closer in his review for Pitchfork when he described Post-Nothing as music for teens. To a certain extent, I agree with this statement, although I would liken the music of Japandroids to conjuring what Neko Case once described as “that teenage feeling.” On their myspace page, in fact, the band pithily describes its genesis as a “creative outlet for post-teenage angst.” However, whereas Neko, bless her heart, imagined “that teenage feeling” with tender nostalgia, her perspective was through the lens of a weary romantic pushing her mid-30’s. Japandroids, however, have a view from the front lines, and as they make clear throughout Post-Nothing, it ain’t pretty.


If anything, Japandroids sound like a precocious Meadowlands-era Wrens: they’re barely into their twenties, and life has already beaten them to a pulp. ‘Young Hearts Spark Fires’ opens with Prowse and King shouting “We finished our whole lives!” and continues with “We used to dream/ Now we worry about dying/ I don’t wanna worry about dying!” on the chorus. These boys seem all too aware of what future adulthood has in store, and want no part of it. They also sing about girls. A lot. Mostly they focus on the more lascivious side of the equation, particularly in the rousing numbers ‘Wet Hair’ and ‘Heart Sweats.’ In the latter, Prowse and King demonstrate their profound lyrical economy with memorable lines like “Your heart is cold as ice, girl, I should know I’ve been to the North Pole … Still my heart sweats.” Occasionally they veer into the realm of heartache, and do so quite successfully on tracks like “Sovereignty,” where they poignantly describe the anguish of geographical separation from a loved one.


If all of this sounds a bit too emo, it should, because both sonically and lyrically, Post-Nothing approximates No Age doing a pop-punk album. And this, it turns out, is a good thing, on multiple counts. First, in the burgeoning new no-fi genre, lyrical inscrutability has been a major issue for me, both in the sense of difficulty in understanding the words being sung thanks to distortion, and in the occasional implementation of pointlessly obtuse lyrics. The singing/yelling of the Japandroids dodges both bullets nimbly. Of particular note is their tendency towards repetition and lyrical straightforwardness, such that each song consists of only a handful of lines repeated over and over again, so that there is little chance of missing their direct meaning. Sonically, the No Age analogy works too, although I would go further to suggest that these tunes hew the closer to indie classics like Yo La Tengo’s ‘Sugarcube’ or Sonic Youth’s ‘Teenage Riot’: Specifically, moments when great rock bands took time-out from pushing musical boundaries to create brilliant pop songs that were able to retain a sense of edgy rawness. Impressively, Japandroids seem to have mastered this level of songcraft right out of the gates.


Lest I get too sycophantic, Post-Nothing does have its flaws. ‘Crazy/Forever,’ perhaps the album’s weakest track, is also, unfortunately, its longest (is it just me, or does that sort of thing seem to happen a lot?). Additionally, at 8 tracks over a scant 35 minutes, the album can feel a tad slight. I wonder how much greater could it have been with maybe a couple more solid tracks (like their ‘No Allegiance to the Queen’ off of myspace). Thankfully, however, each song on the album is fully realized and packs an individualized punch, diminishing the significance of the short run-time. Additionally, the tracks are sequenced brilliantly, book-ended by the wonderful, Thin Lizzy-inverting ‘The Boys Are Leaving Town,’ and the especially Wrens-like dirge, ‘I Quit Girls.’ The latter closes out the album on a near-perfect note. Over a piercing one-chord riff, Prowse and King relate the story of a girl who “wears white six days a week … and if you’re lucky, on the seventh day, she wears nothing.” Women like this can drive a (post) teenage boy mad, and after 7 songs of heart-pounding, adrenaline-drenched emotion, ‘I Quit Girls’ is the sound of sheer exhaustion. The album’s resolution: these boys are exhausted, and they’ve had enough of ‘teenage feelings’.

myspace: Japandroids

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