Japandroids isn't sorry for party rocking
As far as album titles go, Japandroids’ sophomore set Celebration Rock may be the most aptly named album you’ll come across this year. Three years removed from the Vancouver outfit’s critically acclaimed and much-adored 2009 debut Post-Nothing, the eight-song affair is brimming with anthemic pop-rock blasts driven by singer-guitarist Brian King’s ultra-distorted licks and singer-drummer David Prowse’s steady thud. There’s a healthy smattering of the pair’s triumphant (and trademarked) “whoas” and “ohs”. For god’s sake, it even starts off with a symphony of fireworks—the brilliant bomb bursts hinting at the celebratory collection to come.
If it seems like the duo is running a victory lap, it’s well warranted. After slugging it out for a few years without really getting noticed in its hometown, the ’90s alt-emo-styling of the group’s Post-Nothing caught on by surprise, attracting attention from the likes of Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The record kept Prowse and King on the road for 18 months, clocking over 200 shows worldwide. The newfound and widespread appreciation for the band must have informed the writing sessions for Celebration Rock, as it comes across as a more refined, hooky, and confident affair than its predecessor. What’s most impressive, however, is that it even exists at all. Over the course of five rounds of double Caesars at a corner booth in East Van’s Wallflower Modern Diner, Japandroids insists that its plans post Post-Nothing were originally nil.
“We were sort of existing on borrowed time,” an animated King explains. “We had basically broken up and had gotten back together more or less around the time that Post-Nothing began to take off.”
Following a couple of little-noticed, self-released EPs, the duo considered Post-Nothing the end of its journey. But then something funny happened. Initially planned as a self-released farewell, Post-Nothing was picked up by local label Unfamiliar Records, and then by well-regarded U.S. imprint Polyvinyl. After rave reviews started pouring in from some high-profile media outlets, all eyes were suddenly on the act, so Japandroids welcomed the attention as an exciting last hurrah. Only thing was, it was hard to pinpoint just when the final curtain would fall.
“There was a certain sense of when the tour ends, the band ends,” King allows. “One tour turns into two tours, and into three tours, then European tours, and then its 2010. We were always saying ‘yes’ to every tour possibility, wanting to play more. That continued on for 18 months before it finally got to the point where we couldn’t tour on the same material.”
While Japandroids knew they were ready to write some new tunes, the path to Celebration Rock wasn’t a straightforward one. Three seven-inches—for “Art Czars”, “Younger Us”, and “Heavenward Grand Prix”—were offered up in 2010 as part of a singles series, but they eventually abandoned that project to focus on a proper follow-up.
The bulk of 2011 was spent fine-tuning Celebration Rock. Despite spending a year in and out of the studio with Vancouver producer Jesse Gander behind the boards, only six new tunes were produced. “We’re not one of those bands that writes 20 songs and then refines it down to the best 10,” King states.
“If you’re a student and you want to get straight A’s, there’s two ways to do it,” he continues. “You’re either inherently so intelligent that learning comes easy to you, or.…You have to grind, you have to study, and you have to spend 10 times as long applying yourself in order to achieve the same results. Those people can get straight A’s as well. That’s what I think our band is, relative to songwriting.”
Celebration Rock includes the previously released “Younger Us” and a juiced-up, road-tested cover of “For the Love of Ivy” by punk-blues masters the Gun Club. King takes pleasure pointing out that the Straight (or specifically, this piece’s author) wrote off the latter as “a smidge too boy-next-door” when the duo performed it at the Waldorf last summer.
“You thought we weren’t capable of pulling it off,” the six-stringer says through a smile equally playful and contemptuous. As for the inclusion of the cover: “At some point you have to realize that no matter how good you are, there’s always bands that can write songs that you’ll never be capable of writing. Even Jimi Hendrix covered ‘All Along the Watchtower’.”
The first song written expressly for the sophomore effort, meanwhile, was “Evil’s Sway”, a banger that rides high on a one-two cow-punk beat and layers of paint-peeling six-string swagger. Its punchy pace sets the tone for an album best described as relentless.
A smoke-and-drink ’em if you got ’em vibe permeates the opener “Nights of Wine and Roses”. The fuzzed-out, open-chord ripper “Younger Us” fits right in with another live-in-the-moment scenario as King relays to a pal, “Remember that night you were already in bed/Said ‘fuck it’ got up to drink with me instead.” Only the closer “Continuous Thunder” attempts to temper the attack.
Even if King denies being a natural at his craft, there’s no doubt he can write a hook. “The House That Heaven Built” is classic riff rock, channeling Springsteen anthems of yore via a simple but moving three-chord buildup and spirits-raising lyrics. “If they try to slow you down, tell them all to go to hell,” the guitarist cries on the fist-pumping chorus.
“Those are the types of songs that we naturally gravitated towards; they’re the most fun to play,” Prowse posits. “In the context of everything we’ve put out, the songs aren’t that different. It’s similar in terms of the type of song that we’re trying to make; hopefully we’re doing it better.”
Judging by the acclaim the follow-up has garnered thus far—not to mention a tour schedule that has Japandroids on the road till December—the straight-A Celebration Rock has made the grade.
Japandroids plays an early show at the Biltmore Cabaret on Saturday (July 7).